Monday, September 8, 2008

Bosnia: Former Synagogue in Travnik (1860) Demolished

Bosnia: Former Synagogue in Travnik (1860) Demolished
by Samuel D. Gruber

(ISJM) Ruth Ellen Gruber has reported on her blog the destruction of the building that formerly housed the synagogue of Travnik, Bosnia. Reports are that a shopping center will be built on the site. Built in 1860, the synagogue has been used as a metal workshop since after World War II. No recognizable signs of its earlier use as a synagogue were visible, The building had not served Jewish use since 1941, and there was no obvious indication of its original function. Neither the local government nor the Jewish Community of Bosnia has a use for the building. A Photograph shows the 1860 synagogue.

According to Ruth Gruber, calls were made to halt the demolition. A citizens' group called "Front" asked Bosnian authorities to step in. A brief report by Bosnia's FENA news agency quotes a member of the Sarajevo Jewish community, Eli Tauber, as saying that the Community can do nothing to stop the process as the building had been sold off after World War II.

Ivan Ceresnjes of the Center for Jewish Art in Jerusalem, provided the following background report about the history and fate of the synagogue building and other aspects of the material culture of the Jewish community of Travnik:

"A Jewish community has existed in Travnik, Muslim Croat Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, since 1768, and the first synagogue was built in 1769. During the period of the Ottoman Empire, Travnik was the seat of the Pasha, making Travnik the most important city in the Ottoman province of Bosnia and its Jewish community the second in importance, after Sarajevo. The number of Jews increased constantly, and reached a peak in 1940 of 375 Jews. After WWII only a few Jewish families resettled in Travnik and the recent war delivered the final deathblow to the Jewish community.

I was not able to enter the [surviving] synagogue, built in 1860 on the foundations of the previous synagogue and therefore the building is only partially documented. The communal chronicles say that the synagogue was built entirely by voluntary work of members of the community between Pesach and Rosh Hashana.

Travnik is in a way strange City when Jews are in question: during the WW II Jews were killed, synagogue was damaged (but not destroyed) and all ritual objects were taken by the local Croatian and Moslem Nazi-collaborators to the nearby Jesuit monastery. After the war only a handful of survivors returned, and since the synagogue was not suitable for prayers Jesuits returned everything to the Jewish community in Sarajevo.

In the spring of 1941, local fascists partially burned and looted the building, took the ritual objects (Torah scrolls, silver items from synagogue, books, tefillim, tallitot) from the synagogue and gave them to the local Jesuits. After the war, the Jesuits returned the Torah and ritual objects to the Jewish community in Sarajevo which in turn donated part of the collection to the Jewish museum in Belgrade.

The synagogue was stripped of everything that would indicate its former use. The hall has been divided horizontally on the level of the former women's gallery, whose entrance was from the outside. Behind the synagogue is a building which housed a Jewish school and the Rabbi's apartment.

So, truth is that the building has been sold by the Federation in early '50, (there were good reasons for that and I can elaborate on that), used for some time as a kind of metal workshop and was abandoned before the last war so the Jewish Community had no legal rights on the building but the truth is also that Municipality of Travnik and local City Museum asked more than once if Jews are interested to find together with them some solution for the survival of the only Jewish prayer-house in the city for any kind of cultural use.

In the City Museum are four recently discovered silver artifacts, thought to be from the house of one of the oldest Jewish families of Travnik. Researchers documented two silver Esther Scroll cases, a silver book cover belonging to the family of Yaacov Yeruham Konforti, and a silver belt. The cache was found while digging the foundations of a new house in 1989. It was presumably hidden and buried at the site of Konforti's house.

One of the Esther Scrolls is engraved with Konforti's name and the date 5650 (1890). There is also an engraved floral decoration and a hallmark indicating that this was made by the same artisan who made the prayer book cover.

The second Esther Scroll is silver, machine stamped and chased. A cartouche decorating the scroll has a decorative monogram with the letters JK, probably Jacob or Jeruham Konforti.

The silver book cover is engraved with an open work interlaced foliage motif. On the front cover there is an oval medallion inscribed with the family name and the date 5650. The back cover is identical to the front including the oval, but without the inscription. Both the engraving and the cutting for the open work are done by machine.

The fourth item that was found in the cache is a silver belt made with a floral motif.

The Jewish cemetery in Travnik, founded in 1762, is outside of the town on the slope of one of the surrounding hills, bordering the Catholic cemetery. It is large, quite overgrown with vegetation, but in decent condition. In the center of the plot is a monument to those who perished in WWII. It is a concrete pedestal on which are positioned three tombstones, possibly among the oldest ones from the cemetery."

No comments: