Jewish mementos in Györ-Moson-Sopron Comitatus

Györ

Synagogue, Kossuth-Straße 3-5

1861 the Jews of the city decided to build a synagogue. The 600 square fathom property on which the building is situated today was purchased by the Jewish community on July 10, 1860 for 6000 Forint. After the acquisition of the property the commission for the building of the synagogue, "Synagogenbaukommission", tendered a competition for the planning of the school and synagogue. The following parameters were defined:

1. Synagogue with 400 seats, ground floor with corresponding galleries, entrance on the Western side.
2. School building: 8 classrooms (5 boys’ and 4 girls’ classes), one room should be able to accommodate 100 people, the other 8 should hold 80 people.
3. Council hall of the community accommodating 100 people.
4. Office for 4 officials, appropriately sized.
5. Rabbi quarters with 4 main rooms and adjoining rooms.
6. Janitor’s quarters with 2 main rooms and adjoining rooms.

The building plans were to be submitted by December 30, 1866. The tender sparked great interest both locally and abroad. 33 applications were handed in, 3 of which were selected. The commission, knowing of its responsibility and for its own peace of mind, sent the prized structural designs as well as two others to Vienna on February 4, 1867 to have them evaluated by the Austrian association of engineers and architects. After the return of the building plans Károly Benkö’s design which had placed first - by the association as well as the governmental comitatus engineer of Györ József Kliegl - was realized. The company that had come in second, the Budapest firm Örömy, Hencz und Bergh, was commissioned to draw up the detailed blueprints with the certain changes.

On September 30, 1868 the commission tendered the construction. The results of this call for tenders were deliberated in a public hearing on October 25 and the cheapest offer was selected, the contract went to Vilmos Fränkel, a Viennese builder and architect. His offer was priced at 118.629 Forint and 61 Kreuzer, the deposit was 11.324 Forint. On November 6, 1868 the city council gave consent to the construction. Örömy, Hencz und Bergh took over the supervision of works for a 2,5% compensation. The expenses were met by the Jewish community by selling seats to an “eternal price” and through interest-free loans by members of the community as well as donations. Breaking of the ground was on November 9, 1868. Construction was fast, on October 9, 1869 the school was completed and the walls of the synagogue had reached their final height. The carpentry, stone cutting and glass works were done by local craftsmen. The shrine of the Thora, the chandelier and the adornment painting are the praised word of Viennese masters. The school was ceremoniously opened on October 17, 1869, the synagogue was inaugurated after the placement of the cap stone on September 15, 1870.

The outline of the Györ synagogue is a strechted triangle. The facades are spectacularly set between the corner towers with ball helmets. The large rose window draws one’s attention as well. And there are twin windows closing in an arch. On the axis of the inner room the ark of the covenant stands on the Mizrah platform, it has three columns and is crowned with a flat dome. Behind it is the cell of the Thora. The entire inner room is spanned by a two story gallery, its cassette balustrade is decorated with stars of David. The walls are painted with stylized ornamental motifs and framed with decorative borders. The main entrance of the synagogue opens in front of the Western facade, the threefold structure of the walls emphasizes the axis of the entrance. The design by Károly Benkö is the first realization of the movement of neological synagogues. The building features the main characteristics of neological synagogues such as the quiet yard tucked away by the wings of the school building, the monumental central synagogue with its high dome, the specifically European women’s galleries, the organ and the vertical structures which serve to emphasize the sacral character of the building. The synagogue of Györ is one of the main sites of the neological trend. The synagogue built in the style of late Historicism and the Sezession for a long time set an example for the construction of synagogues in other cities. It became an archetype of the metropolitan synagogue with great capacity.

During the five decades following the inauguration of the synagogue the Jewish community grew both in members and in wealth. In 1910 it counted 5583 people. The synagogue had become too tight for larger celebrations, in the case of a fire the galleries could not have been evacuated fast enough using only the three spiral staircases.
The idea of expanding the building had come up with the turn of the century. By 1925 the necessary finances were available so the city sold property on the Eastern side of the existing building. On November 8 1925 a closed competition was tendered. Nine applications were submitted, the first prize was awarded to the Budapest engineer Dávid Jónás, the Budapest architect Sándor Hegyi placed second. On January 24, 1926 the community government commissioned the architect Arnold Barbach with the planning of a small synagogue using the winning designs. On March 25, 1926 the city council decided in an extraordinary meeting that it could no longer carry the responsibility for the dangerous state of the stairs of the synagogue and ordered the alterations according to the new plan. This plan connected the stairs of the main synagogue and added a winter synagogue between the two new staircases. 1,2 million Crowns were granted to cover the expenses. The construction was done by the cheapest company, Pittel und Brausewetter AG. Construction work started on April 19, 1926 and the festive autumn service was already held in the new synagogue.
The work on the inside of the smaller synagogue called the winter chapel went slow, it was inaugurated on November 20, 1927. The small synagogue was where the daily services were held in winter which meant that during the construction period the synagogue was closed for a long time.

Due to the well-known tragic events of the 1940s and the deportations the number of members of the Jewish community fell drastically. Of the 5700 people deported only around 780 returned.

This fated the further development of the synagogue. It was re-inaugurated on March 15, 1946 but the synagogue and school built by the formerly very large Jewish community could not be maintained. The Györ city council wanted to take over the building as government property and use it for cultural events. The Nation of Hungary bought the synagogue from the Jewish community on July 18, 1969. The school quarters at first housed the offices of the grain company and old furniture sorted out by the municipal authorities was stored here. These parts of the building were continuously renovated whereas the main synagogue and the winter synagogue deteriorated more and more. The city requested that the Ferenc Liszt conservatory be given room in the “A” wing of the school and that the synagogue be made a concert hall. There was a competition tendered to five invitees. The construction plans were made in 1971 and the Györ section of the Ferenc Liszt conservatory took ownership of the wing of the school building on October 1, 1973. The Jewish community continued to operate in the quarters on Kossuth Lajos Street, the first floor was designated the prayer house.

In the 1980s mere maintenance was possible. There were many plans and visions which could not be realized due to lack of financing.
On March 15, 1991 a foundation for the Synagogue of Györ was founded. It became the communal organization "Kultureller Konferenzzentrale Györ", “center for cultural conference of Györ", and from 1997 to 2005 fought for the survival of this extraordinarily beautiful and unique building as a venue for cultural and music events and to house works of fine art. 1994-95 the facade on Kossuth Lajos Street was renovated. The wrought-iron fence was reconstructed in 2002.

After long negotiations legal documents for the construction were drafted, supported by the authorities for protection of historic sights of interest and on March 4, 2004 they became legally binding. With the construction permit in place the realization of the project began. Again a competition was tendered, the winning firm doing not only the planning but also the implementation. The work of the general contractor was supported by several sub contractors. The restoration was done by famous artists in the field, Gábor Ludányi (stone and plastering works), László Csúcs (adornment painting) and András Seres (wood restauration). The construction site was handed over on December 6. The first task was to tidy up and do research for the restaurations. With the documentation of the research it was possible to plan the implementation and start with the first steps. The complete reconstruction of the octogonal body of the synagogue restored it to its 1869 state. All external and internal elements of the building were either reconstructed or restored to their former magnificence.

The sacral past of the building is visible in the restored elemts of the facade, the restored memorial plaques inside of the synagogue and in the Thora shrines, prayer stools and menorah donated by the Jewish community. The Thora blanket is a givt of the Villányi family. With the collaboration of the head of the Jewish community of the time, Tibor Villányi, the golden star of David was restored to the central dome, it pays tribute to the original function of the building. Thanks to the restauration the Hebrew writing above the main entrance and the altar are again visible. Heading the main entrance it reads: “This house is holy for our God, it is here that we bow to our knees before our creator”, above the altar: “Behold, the ark of the lord of the world”.
The major works were completed with July 12, 2006. The building was given taken into possession on the same day. The “jewelery box” in Györ serves the public as cultural center in many ways, it hosts short and long term exhibitions, musical and literary as well as many other cultural events. The main operator of the building is the University of István Széchenyi, the main users are the university and the municipal art museum.

Main parameters of the building:

ground floor: former sacral hall: 413 m2,
winter synagogue: 77m2,
other rooms (halls, sanitary facilites, etc.): 125 m2,
university premises: 963 m2,
rooms designated to the Jewish community: 185 m2.
total area of the ground floor: 1763 m2.
1. story: 930 m2
2. story, gallery: 308 m2
total net area: 3240 m2

height of the four towers above the pavement: 18 m
area of the four towers: 11,4 m2

height of the dome above the pavement: 22 m
height of the dome’s arch: 8 m
diameter of the dome: 14 m
area of the dome: 387,5 m2

inner height of the synagogue: 13,5 m.

The permanent exhibition of the Vasilescu collection in the central hall and the gallereis greatly contributes to the synagogue’s significance as a cultrual center. The János Vasilescu collection of 20th century artworks is known throughout the country first came to Györ in February 2005. It was on display at the municipal art museum. The technical inventor and successful businessman is of Romanian origin but settled in Hungary and started collecting Hungarian works of art in the 1960s. Up to 2002 he continually expanded the collection and then offered it to the Hungarian nation. The Vasilescu foundation issued a call for tenders among the Hungarian museums to find a suitable venue for the collection. In 2004 the synagogue of Györ became the permanent home to the artworks.

by Johannes Scholem Graf & Alexandra Vogt

2012.05.25