International Survey of Jewish Monuments
International Survey of Jewish Monuments
Hungarian Synagogues to be Restored

The Former Synagogue Of Kunszentmarton, Hungary

The synagogue of Kunszentmarton, built between 1911-12 based on designs of Jozsef Dobrovszky, combined the forms of traditional Jewish symbolism with the richness of Art Nouveau.  Until 1964, it functioned as a Jewish sanctuary.  Then, the National Representation of Hungarian Israelites (the official Jewish community of Hungary) sold it to a local firm that used it as a furniture warehouse.  In 1987, on the initiative of the local community, the National Institute for the Protection of Monuments declared the synagogue a protected historic site.  With support from the Institute, the government of the city has begun the restoration of the synagogue and is dedicated to the conservation of this unique historic monument.

A synagogue of traditional ground plan, the sanctuary of Kunszentmarton is a two-story building with a high roof, with two square towers flanking the façade topped by octagonal pinnacles.  Inside, a gallery is supported by slender cast-iron columns covered with painted plaster.  The ceiling is articulated with sunken panels.

Although the damage to the synagogue was extensive, the exterior reconstruction is almost complete.  Further renovations will require extensive interior as well as exterior work.  The local community intends to use the former synagogue for public purposes:  picture gallery, theater, concert room, and home to many local events with long traditions.  It will be named after the famous Hungarian composer, Bela Bartok and will be called the Bartok Hall.

Six million Hungarian Forints (c. $25,000) was spent on conservation in the past years.  In 1999, the local municipal government applied for a Millennium Grant from the Ministry of National Cultural Heritage and won ten million Forints (c. $42,000) to continue restoration work.  It is estimated that the completion of the work would require another 47 million Hungarian Forints (c. $190,000 for the work and $10,000 to administer the project.)

Plans Are Made for Restoration of Eighteenth-Century Synagogue in Mad, Hungary

The synagogue of Mad, erected in 1798, is the last recognizable remnant of the Jewish community of Mad, save the cemetery.  The Jewish community was established in the eighteenth century and once played an important role in the production and transport of kosher wine.  Mad sits in the center of one of Europe’s most famous wine-producing areas and Jews were, for many centuries, very active in viticulture.

The Mad synagogue is one of the finest surviving examples of Baroque synagogue architecture, and it is one of only four surviving synagogues of the period in Hungary.  Of these, two have now been restored as public buildings.  Mad is exceptional because not only is the synagogue intact with all of its rich decoration, but the attached structure which once housed a yeshiva (religious school) and the rabbi’s residence is also intact.  The entire complex is dramatically sited, overlooking much of the town and the surrounding vineyards.  It offers an excellent opportunity for the creation of a mixed-use historic-commemorative site and center.

On the exterior, the synagogue conforms with the norms for public structures. It is sited on a hill overlooking the town, and its main (east) two level facade is articulated with four pairs of classical pilasters on the lower (main) level, and two pairs of smaller pilasters topped by a curved pediment in the attic story.  Between the lower pilaster pairs are windows, the central one of which is blind—indicating the location of the Ark within.

Inside, the well-proportioned interior spaces perfectly summarize the developments in synagogue architecture of the previous two hundred years.  The rectangular plan is divided into thirds.  The first houses a requisite entrance vestibule, entered from a door on the south wall.  Above the vestibule is the women's gallery, entered from a separate entrance reached by an exterior stair on the west side.  The door from the vestibule to the main prayer sanctuary - a almost square space - is on line with the bimah in the center of the sanctuary - the location from where services were conducted and the Torah was read three times a week.  The bimah is a raised platform reached by stairs on the north and south, and surrounded by columns at its four corners.  The Holy Ark is situated at the far east end, reached by four steps, and set into the wall.  The bimah dominates the space, but because its columns are proportionally smaller than one finds in the typical Polish synagogue of this type, the relatively small interior actually appears quite spacious.  Springing from the bimah columns are four pair of arches, and these emphasize the bimah's centrality.

Of particular significance in this building are the finely carved stone details of bimah and the ark, many of which are fragmentary, but which have been collected and pieced together in their original places.  Most of the interior plaster (which was probably painted) has fallen from the interior walls, but the painted surfaces of the vaults are intact, though seriously abraded and deteriorated.

Before its dissolution, the Mad Jewish community maintained a rich spiritual life.  From its earliest days, the community leaned toward Hasidism.  Indeed, much of the wine produced at Mad was shipped north and east to Hasidic courts in Greater Poland.  Rabbi Moses Wolf Litman was the first spiritual leader of the Mad community.  The community constantly battled against assimilation and any foreign influences.  Its leading rabbis were Rabbi Abraham Yehuda Schwartz, Rabbi Amram Blum and Rabbi Naftali Schwartz.  The rabbis and religious judges of Mad published some twenty-five books during 300 years is indicative of the creative Jewish life there.  The local yeshiva drew students from all parts of Hungary.  Following the German occupation of Hungary, all the Jews were gathered in the synagogue and sent by rail to the ghetto in Ujhely.  From the population of 450, there were ninety survivors.
In 1996, The World Monuments Fund, an international preservation organization, identified the synagogue in Mad as one of the most important synagogues of the world to preserve and restore.  WMF based its decision on the historical significance of the site, the quality of the art and architecture of the synagogue, the deteriorated but still essentially intact condition of the synagogue’s original form and features, and the belief that the location of the synagogue provided a likely chance of long use and continued maintenance after restoration.  The Synagogue complex of Mad illustrates a unique and little-known episode in Jewish history, and a very important part of the history of the Jews Central Europe.  Only by remembering the variety and vitality of Jewish life in the region before World War II can one begin to appreciate the real extent of the destruction of the Holocaust.

The main obstacle to the protection and preservation of this structure has been financial.  Though intact, the building has remained unoccupied and essentially unprotected since 1944.  Superficial repairs were made to the exterior in the 1970s, but the building appears to require substantial structural repairs and a full conservation treatment of its interior finishes—particularly the painted walls and the richly carved stone elements around the Ark.  Continued exposure to rain and snow now threatens the stability of the building, and the integrity of the interior decoration.

The building was recently purchased by the Municipality of Mad.  Local authorities would like to see the building restored and protected.  Plans to use the complex as a memorial, museum and educational center fit into regional plans for monument protection and tourism development.  Restoration and reuse of the synagogue would serve the memory of the Jewish community and will also contribute to the economic health of the town.

International Survey of Jewish Monuments
c/o Jewish Heritage Research Center
Box 210, 118 Julian Pl.
Syracuse, New York 13210-3419, USA

tel: (315) 474-2350
fax: (315) 474-2347

Last updated: January 4, 2003