Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Slovakia: Grand 9-Bay Plan Stupava Synagogue gets a Facelift

Slovakia: Stupava Synagogue Gets a Facelift (and More)
by Samuel D. Gruber

(ISJM) Participants in the recent Bratislava Seminar on Care, Conservation and Maintenance of Historic Jewish Properties were treated to a visit to the grand early 19th century synagogue of Stupava (German: Stampfen; Hungarian: Stomfa), which after decades of neglect and ruin has receive a facelift thanks to the efforts of preservationist Tomas Stern, a member of the Board of the nearby-Bratislava Jewish Community (who is also a plastic surgeon).

According to Maros Borsky, Director of the
Slovak Jewish Heritage Center, who organized the visit: "The synagogue was built in 1803 by a prominent Jewish Community of the pre-emancipation period that resided in a serf-town belonging to the Counts Palffy, of Stupava. From the architectural standpoint, the synagogue belongs to the most precious Jewish heritage sites in Slovakia, one of two last extant nine-bay synagogues. There has been no Jewish community in Stupava since the Second World War and the synagogue passed through various private ownerships, an eventually was in total disrepair. In the early 2000s, the synagogue was acquired by the NGO Jewrope, associated with Dr. Tomas Stern, a Bratislava-based businessman and board member of the Bratislava Jewish Community. Jewrope and Dr. Stern have managed to save the building from collapse by stabilizing the structure, replacing the roof and complete restoration of exteriors. The next planned restoration stage includes interior works, planned to be completed within next three years. The synagogue will serve then as a central archive and book storage of the Slovak Jewish community. A small exhibition of the local Jewish history is foreseen."

As an aside, I am happy to say that
ISJM recognized Dr. Stern's dedication many years ago when he was still a medical student - whose weekend passion was the search for abandoned synagogues in Slovakia, which he photographed. Jewrope plans to create in the main space of the synagogue a permanent exhibition about the Jewish history of Stupava, as well as cultural and social space to serve the needs of the general public and the Jewish community.

So far, the project has received support from Jewrope, the Culture Ministry of Slovakia, The Slovak Gas Industry grant scheme, and the World Monuments Fund. Dr. Borsky and Dr. Stern arranged for the building to be included on the Slovak Jewish Heritage Route.

As the attached photos indicate, not much of the original decor of the synagogue remains, but the spas are all intact. Discussions are ongoing about what level of conservation and restoration to apply to the interior walls. Traces of at least two phases of painting can be seen - but the most plentiful and visible decorative patters probably date from the late 19th or early twentieth century. The photos also show numerous examples of old and new temporary patching used to consolidate plasterwork. These will obviously be replaced or improved upon in the final project.

The most ambitious part of the plan is to create a Jewish archive in the upper story of the building, above the vaults but under the capacious roof. This would depend on the creation of a self-supporting structure and the addition of an exterior entrance way for access and safety. Jewrope is working with architects and engineers on these plans which, in the end, will be dependent on technological feasibility (likely) and cost (still unknown).

Meanwhile, the Jewish Community of Bratislava and the town of Stupava are negotiating trying to resolve property ownership claims. The building was sold to a private individual before the restitution process began. Jewrope now owns and building, but not the land on which it sits. Resolution of land ownership needs to be completed before any large investment in infrastructure can begin for the synagogue - no matter what its future use.
Dr. Stern, who rose from a sickbed to greet the seminar participants, is committed to getting the project done, and the Bratislava Community supports the effort. In time, Stupava may become again an important Jewish culture center.

Contributions can be sent to Jewrope, at Karpatská 8, 811 05 Bratislava, tel.: 02/52 45 11 12, 0905 600 873, or by contacting ISJM.

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