Saving a Synagogue in rural Hungary

Saving a Synagogue in rural Hungary

Saving a Synagogue in rural Hungary

It has just become official: after more than 60 years, the Sárbogárd synagogue has finally fallen into the hands of those who value the Jewish heritage and want to renovate the special building in order to preserve its former congregation’s traditions. 

The last synagogue of Fejér county — south-west of Budapest, in the middle of Hungary –, which still preserves the structural elements of the original construction, is in Sárbogárd. Norbert Lakk, who wrote a book on the Jewish history of Sárbogárd, and Pál Stern, who has been following the Jewish events of the settlement for many years have informed us about the exciting news.

After more than half a century, the Sárbogárd synagogue has finally fallen into the hands of those who intend to preserve the building and the local Jewish heritage. 

The community that survived the war handed over the synagogue to the state in the 1960s due to its declining membership. Eventually the dilapidated building became the property of the cooperative-owned state-run business, mostly was used as storage space.

Although it has been protected as a national monument for some years, its fate has long been uncertain. In recent decades, there has been a clothing store on the ground floor and a furniture depo on the first floor…

With the generous support of the Church of the Faith (Hit Gyülekezete) and a construction company, Szegletkő Kft, it has recently become the property of the Alba Region Cultural Foundation. The organization paid the purchase price of several million forints — the foundation is determined not to publish the specific amount.

Photo: Bernadett Alpern

The intention of the buyers is clear: They want to save the synagogue and, as far as possible, the Jewish historical values ​​and memories of the city for the future

— said Paul Stern, who pointed out that with his significant donation, dr. Gábor András, the grandson of Ármin Ábrahamson’s former rabbi in Sárbogárd, also contributed to the acquisition of the synagogue.

I don’t know exactly when, at what pace, and when the synagogue can be renewed, but I felt it was my duty to participate in this story if I could. Just for the sake of honoring the memory of my family – said dr. Gábor András, who has rabbinic ancestry in the history of the city’s former Orthodox community, all the way to his great-grandfather.

He himself visited Sárbogárd with his father for the first time in the 1970s, and since then he has been trying to visit the cemetery regularly with his own family and to pass on the history of the ancestors and the treasures and responsibilities of the Jews to future generations. At present, new buyers have already achieved structural stabilization of certain parts of the building.

According to Pál Stern, in parallel with the planning of the complex renovation, which will last for many months, the cultural activity and the worthy preservation of Jewish memorials in the building will be determined. Even if the building is renovated, it is still difficult to imagine that there will be credit for it. Who knows? For the time being,

it is more realistic to assume that in a few years the synagogue will serve cultural and community purposes: it will be able to function as an exhibition space, a concert and event hall, a venue for extraordinary classes.

Dr. Gabor András and Pál Stern

There will be plenty of work to be done, as it will also have to be decided, for example, what will happen to the religious remains and community records that have been piled up in the synagogue attic for decades.

No data has been preserved on the formation of the Jewish community of the large village in the Sárbogárd district. What is certain, however, is that Jewish life was already vibrant in the 18th century. The first room of worship was built in 1799, and the first rabbi was presumably Solomon Bischitz, a prominent Talmudic scholar who fled Prague to this place.

The area of ​​the synagogue — which was opened in the year of 1879 — on Bercsényi Street was characterized by a prosperous life before 1944: in addition to the 400 Jewish community of Sárbogárd, the Jewish inhabitants of Hercegfalva, Sárkeresztúr, Sárosd, Sárszentágota and Sárszentmiklós also came here to pray. The community of hundreds also maintained its own elementary school and yeshiva until the deportation of the Hungarian Jews back in the summer of 1944.