Jewish Mementos in Vas Comitatus

Szombathely Part 2

In 1880 they also founded the Chevra Kadisha and erected a new cemetery next to the old one, separated from it by a wall. Lipót Rokkenstein’s appointment was not renewed in 1870, he moved away from Szombathely. The next year Dr. József Stier was elected rabbi, he was Hungarian born but did not speak Hungarian. He held his speeches in German and in school he could fulfill the expectations of the Magyar community.
A decade after the separation the Jewish community, organized according to the rules of the congress, inaugurated a new synagogue. The construction was partly financed by donations from within the community and by selling seats in the synagogue, still, it was a major financial burden to the community.
In 1880 the impressive synagogue with two towers designed by Viennese architect Ludwig Schöne was built. Ludwig Schöne was born in Leipzig on June 19, 1845 and died in Vienna on June 8, 1935. His main working in Hungary were during the last two decades of the 19th century, mainly in West-Transdanubia. One of his most important pieces is the neological synagogue of Szombathely which was inaugurated on the Northeastern side of Batthyányi Square on August 30, 1880. It mirrors the effect of the synagogue on Dohány Street in Budapest but in relation to its size its towers are slimmer. The building, standing free on a large corner property, was encompassed by an iron rail fence with brick pillars. The outer measurements are 23,40 x 36,40 m, the cornice is 14 m high. The spherical caps of the open-worked tower building are repeated as smaller versions on the wall of the cornice. The crest makes for a decorative completion of the building, boasting a row of three-quarter stars of David.

The vestibule has a threefold camera. The area of the synagogue room is 16,15 - 19 m, surrounded on three sides by the women’s gallery which stands on cast-iron columns. The building was transformed to a concert hall in 1975, the earlier elements and structuring pieces all torn down. Apart from the entrance the facade has been preserved.

During the 20 years Dr. József Stier was active the Jewish community experienced strong development, even though its rabbi dithered between his own religious convictions and the renewals in the community. In 1891 he gave up his position and became a rabbi in Berlin. Zsigmond Richter, judge from Kőszeg, provisionally took on the rabbi duties in Szombathely until Dr. Béla Bernstein was assigned the position in 1892 after several candidates had held their trial speeches. Béla Bernstein as a representative of the emancipated Hungarian Jews announced that a good Jew was also a good patriot and he paid great attention to the upbringing of the youth. During his years in Szombathely he organized the religious education at the middle school. And he saved the Jewish elementary school which had already been condemned to give up several times.

He found classes in Hebrew and the Talmud Torah classes to be important. At his appointment speeches were held alternating in German and Hungarian, from 1905 on Hungarian became the language for speeches. He was also open for changes, with 1892 a choir received a permanent position at the synagogue. His Bible translations and historical studies were not only acclaimed by the contemporary Jewish scientific community but by secular sciences as well. His historical work, focusing on the history of certain places, is greatly valued as a source. In 1909 he left Sombathely after 17 years to become rabbi of the Nyíregyház status quo community where he worked until his martyrdom.

In 1892 the community hall for the congressional community on Rákóczi Ferenc Street next to the synagogue was inaugurated. It also became the headquarters of the VII. congressional district. The building was bombed during the war, then torn down; a music school now stands at its place. Only after the inauguration of the community hall a new school could be built. In 1891 the city granted 1000 Forint for the school. The head of the school board, Dr. Sámuel Schwarz, started collecting funds for the new school.
The Jewish community took on a loan of 28.000 Forint for the construction of the school. In 1983 they approved the design by architect Miksa Rauscher and he was commissioned with carrying out the construction. Within a year the school was built on the plot which at the far end opened up to Torna Street (today: Zrínyi Street), the property belonged to the Jewish community, it opened to two streets. The old school was altered to provide housing for the community’s employees and part of it was transformed to be a matzo bakery. Inside the building which stands on a 4300 m2 yard there was space for 4 auditoriums, a room for handicraft and a prayer hall. The Jewish community did not build a gymnasium as it felt obliged to use to gym across the road which belonged to the gymnastic club. A library for the youth starting out with 180 books was founded as well, the teachers’ library held 20 books.

(to Jewish Szombathely Part 3)

by Johannes Scholem Graf & Alexandra Vogt

2012.07.06