A fine example of Jewish social care
In 1930, József Kemény wrote his book “Sketches from the History of the Jews of Győr”, which is a kind of a chronicle of the Győr Jewish citizens’ philantrophy in favour of their city and the local Jewish community. In his work, he also covers the history of the Menház (Home for children and elderly). The following is based on Kemény’s description up to the date of publication of his book.
In 1889, Dr Fülöp Pfeiffer, a physician, citizen of Győr who loved and supported his town being simultaneously the president of the Jewish community, made a foundation of 4,000 crowns with the noble aim of establishing a charity home for poor pupils of the Jewish elementary school located in the two wings of the nearby Synagogue. Several wealthy donors contributed substantial sums to the foundation much later, such as Ignác Schreiber 130 000; Ignác Meller, Jakab Hatschek and Dezső Kürschner 20 000 – 20 000, Károly Wolf 13 600, Márton Fürst 12 400; Samu Winkler, Mór Scheiber and Sándor Hacker 12 000 – 12 000; Lipót Eisenstaedter, Hermann Back and Lipót Redlich 11 000 – 11 000; Albert Fuchs and Miksa Wolf 10 000 – 10 000 crowns, to mention only the most prominent contributors.
Besides the problem of properly feeding the children, the care of the elderly was also unresolved. The funds raised from donations to build a separate children’s institution, a ritual kitchen for public catering and a house for the elderly were insufficient. So, the community leaders combined all the goals.
In 1913, the Menház was completed, based on the plans of architects Károly Mocsányi from Budapest and Dezső Stadler from Győr. The new building became one of the architecturally successful public buildings in Győr-Újváros, its proportions and slightly neo-classical style becoming the ornament of the district in the immediate vicinity of the Synagogue, on the corner of Kossuth Lajos Street and Palatinus (today Erkel Ferenc and Dr. Róth Emil Streets).
“In the basement, there is a large kitchen with a serving area and a pantry, meat and spice room, and the central heating room with a wood and coal fireplace. On the ground floor, to the left, there was the dining room with the servery, and next to it the caretaker’s apartment. To the right there were the old people’s rooms and rooms for the sick and the staff. On the upper floor, the most beautiful part was the prayer hall of about 110 m2, next to which there were also the maternity rooms and rooms for the sick as well as other service space. There was also a laundry in the attic. In keeping with the requirements of the times, the building was designed to provide a pleasant home for the abandoned old people, soothing their old age. But it was also intended to be a focal point for the care provided to our schoolchildren.” (See József Kemény)
The Institute’s operations were shaken to the core by the 1st WW. The rooms were used for housing, and some of them housed soldiers. Food for the children was cut off. Dr Pfeiffer then again donated a substantial sum of 30 000 crowns to the Menház refurbishment, and many other donors followed his example. A change of those responsible took place, the building was renovated and the Menház resumed its old functions, which were even extended (to the Girls Association’s kitchen).
However, history soon intervened once again, and the life of a thriving and growing community was blighted, first by the discriminating laws on Jewish citizens and then by the tragedy of the Holocaust. The Hungarian state abandoned five thousand patriotic citizens of Győr, entire families, including women and children, without whom the city might never have developed as dynamically as it did.
After the 2nd WW, less than nine hundred survivors, who had been through hell and stripped of their possessions, were forced to sell the Menház to the city because they simply could not care for its maintenance. The Menház became a kindergarten, but later it was no longer functioning as such, and the abandoned building deteriorated step-by-step.
2012 saw a positive turnaround. The Jewish Community agreed with the municipality to buy the building back in five annual instalments to prevent it from collapsing and eventual demolition. It was obliged to do so out of respect for tradition and in memory of the builders…
The complete renovation of the building has started, for which the Community has won funds through tenders and it intends to finance further improvements in a similar way. As a first step, the Community has provided space for a kindergarten on the first floor of the building. These premises are now rented by the kindergarten of the Hungarian Pentecostal Church. Later on, the entire building was saved from dilapidation. An exhibition space and a theatre hall were built on the ground floor.
Afterwards, in these spaces, a Jewish religious and local history exhibition was organized by the Community, which gives a broad outline of the history, holidays and customs of Jews in general and in Hungary, as well as the outstanding representatives of the Győr Jews and their contribution to the economic and social development of the city. A number of charts give an account of the life of ‘everyday’ Jewish families, with the help of photographs which are now of historical value. The exhibition aims to inform, remember and recall. History teachers from some of Győr’s secondary schools regularly bring students here to introduce them to the missing chapters in their history textbooks. There are also many visitors from abroad. Entries in the exhibition’s guestbook testify to the positive experiences of visitors.
For several years, the theatre has been home to a successful micro theatre featuring reputable artists. The series of nationally renowned small stage performances has unfortunately been discontinued and the space is now rented out.
The local Jewish Community plans to create an interactive database of Győr’s Jews to be installed on computers in the Menház basement, which also needs to be completely renovated. Once the project is completed, the local City Museum would take over the management of this future, modern section of the existing Jewish local history collection.
The Menház will be one of the venues of the Jewish Roots in Győr World Reunion to be held in 2024 to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Holocaust.
Sources.: “Sketches from the History of the Jews of Győr”, József Kemény, 1930; Győr Jewish Community; www.jewishgyor.org
Featured image © Anna Shvets, Pexels