Saturday, July 16, 2022

Hungary: Sopron's Holocaust Monument and Memorial Plaques

Sopron, Hungary. Holocaust memorial monument. László Kutas artist, 2004. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2022.
 
Sopron, Hungary. Holocaust memorial monument. László Kutas artist, 2004. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2022.

Sopron, Hungary. Holocaust memorial monument. László Kutas artist, 2004. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2022.

Sopron, Hungary. Holocaust memorial monument. László Kutas artist, 2004. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2022.

Hungary: Sopron's Holocaust Monument and Memorial Plaques

by Samuel D. Gruber
 
I came to Sopron, Hungary, in June primarily to see the two surviving and partially-restored 14th-century synagogues, about which I’ve written in passing but had never seen in person. But I also wanted to see up close the evocative Holocaust memorial monument designed by Hungarian artist László Kutas and erected in 2004. I sometimes mention this monument in various versions of a talk I call "Things Left Behind."
 
The memorial commemorates the more than 1,600 Jews deported from Sopron to Auschwitz. The monument represents of piece of the undressing room of the gas chambers, and symbolizes much more. Kutas was one of the first artists of memorials to cast bronze sculpture from real objects to evoke things left behind as Jews were deported and murdered. In this case, Kutas cast from real clothes to suggest the garments left by victims in the "showers" of Auschwitz. 
 
Four jackets with yellow stars are hung on hooks awaiting owners who will not return. A pile of shoes and broken children’s dolls lies beneath them. The dolls, some with the heads removed, are meant to be just that – dolls left behind – but more fully are surrogates for the murdered children.  

The scene is obviously a construct, as the repeating Hebrew words of the Shema prayer ascend like flames (or souls) above the installation. The Shema prayer is also inscribed on the base in Hebrew, Hungarian, and a transliteration. There is also the prayer/exhortation "May the memory of the righteous be blessed,'" written in metal Hebrew letters around the perimeter fence. Despite all these parts, the monument is striking in its simplicity, and its silence. We only imagine the individuals who wore these clothes, and despite the physicality of the garments, the physicality of the victims is left to the mind's eye, or allowed to be transformed into pure spirit, of the sort suggested by the rising Shema (Hear O Israel).
 
Unfortunately, however,  there is now a parking lot that surrounds the memorial’s triangular plot of land. This greatly reduces the monument’s emotional impact.
 
Sopron, Hungary. Holocaust memorial monument. László Kutas artist, 2004. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2022.

The better-known Budapest memorial installed in 2005 on the banks of the Danube similarly uses cast shoes and boots to signify the victims who were shot and thrown into the icy river in 1944-45 by Arrow Cross militiamen. But there are big differences in the memorials. In Sopron, one must consciously seek out the monument, and it is mounted and fenced in a traditional manner, including appropriate religious inscriptions. In Budapest, one just comes across the abandoned shoes. The memorial is intentional, but it is meant to be unexpected.
Sopron, Hungary. Former Orthodox Synagogue. János Schiller, architect, 1890-91. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2022.
 
The monument is situated in a park across from the former Orthodox synagogue, designed by architect János Schiller (1859–1907) and built in 1890-91. Today the synagogue on Papret Street looks like a ruin, but before the pandemic repairs, including a new roof (I was told), were made and several exhibits, concerts, and lectures were held in the raw space. Jewish Heritage Europe reported earlier this year that the city would allocate  30 million forints (approx 84,000 euro) for the restoration of the Orthodox synagogue as a Jewish religious and cultural center which will be returned to Jewish ownership. It is currently owned by the city. 
 
A modest plaque on the facade installed in 2004 says in Hungarian “‘1640 martyrs’ were taken from here to Auschwitz on 5 July 1944.”
 
Sopron, Hungary. Former Orthodox Synagogue. János Schiller, architect, 1890-91. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2022

Sopron, Hungary. Former Orthodox Synagogue. Memorial plaques installed 2004. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2022.   

The impressive Neolog synagogue at Templom utca 23,was destroyed by bombing in 1945. There is a memorial plaque set on the front of the new building which replaced it.
 
Thanks to Paul Asman and Jilll Lenoble, here is the translation:
"At this location stood the Neolog Synagogue,  of which the first and last rabbi was Dr. Miska Pollák, historian, 1868-1944." Beneath the pictographs it reads, "One of them, One of us, supported by the beautiful city of Sopron." Walter Dezso seems to be responsible for the plaque, which was created by an artist Kutas in 2007. (Hungarian translation lightly adapted from Steve Novak.) The Hebrew at the top is Psalm 100, verse 4: "Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His court with praise."
 A new Franz Liszt performing arts center now stands across the street.
 
Sopron, Hungary. Site of former Neolog Synagogue at Templom utca 23. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2022.
 
Sopron, Hungary. Site of former Neolog Synagogue at Templom utca 23. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2022.
 
There are many other reminders of the Jewish past of Sopron, and the town is full of Gothic and Baroque architecture and is very beautiful.

Sopron, Hungary. Holocaust memorial monument. László Kutas artist, 2004. Photo: Samuel Gruber 2022.

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