International Survey of Jewish Monuments
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The Fortress Synagogue and Jewish Cemetery of Satanov, Ukraineby Boris Khaimovich

The synagogue of Satanov is one of the most ancient and authentic synagogue buildings in Ukraine. It was built, according to Polish sources, in 1539. But close inspection of the building suggests dating the building from the end of 16th to the beginning of 17th centuries. A comparative analysis of architectural construction, type of masonry etc., shows full analogy with an Orthodox monastery in the environs of Satanov, which is dated from the year 1600. Chemical analysis of mortar from different was carried out in the laboratory of the Kiev Architectural Institute, and this also dates the synagogue's construction from the beginning of 17th century.

The building is 21 meters by 18.5 m. and is 14.5 meters high, constructed of big stone blocks and crowned with a brick attic. Semi-cylindrical vaults overlap the synagogue's inner space. This is a unique fortress synagogue, which retains all its elements.

The building was part of the city's fortifications system and retains a passage to the roofing inside the wall, a battle round, and characteristic loopholes. Shelters under the synagogue also survive. Reconstruction of the synagogue was carried out in 1722, as indicated above the stone Baroque-style Ark. Inside the building are carved stone portals and fragments of stucco decoration. Until recently, the synagogue was used as a storehouse for structural materials but now it is hardly used because of its dire condition. Trees have grown upon its dome and are tearing it apart with their roots. It is dangerous to enter the former prayer hall.The CemeteryThe Jewish Cemetery in Satanov was inspected and documented by two expeditions in the years 1991 and 1992. The cemetery is situated upon a hill, above the Zbruch River, and its dimensions are 1,200 m. x 300 with aobut 3000 tombstones in situ. There are about 300 carved gravestones and steles from the 16th to the first half of the 19th century in the old section. The earliest gravestone dates from the 1554.

There are fifteen gravestones from the 16th century, and twenty-seven gravestones from the 17th century. The inscriptions yield information on various events in the shtetl's life, on migrations, etc. Decorated gravestones of the 18th century deserve special attention because of their being unequaled in the variety of their motifs, stylistic solutions and artistic performance. In Satanov, most gravestones, which date from the end of 17th - 19th centuries, are preserved. The development of artistic tendencies and appearance of a unique stone carving school can be traced. The iconography of motifs is extensive and varied. The picturesque environs of Satanov are wood-covered, with low mountains rising just after the settlement. There is a well-appointed spa just three kilometers from Satanov. Thus, the site could become a site of international tourism. Unfortunately, residential building here was much more poorly preserved. However, if desired, it is possible to reconstruct a number of half-ruined Jewish houses or to transfer a number of Jewish houses from nearby shtetls (the town plan of the shtetl has remained) and so recreate here a memorial area of the Podolia shtetl.Zhovkav Synagogue: Future Museum of Galician Jewry?Founded as a Renaissance town before 1600, Zhovkva is an important component of Ukrainian, Polish, and Jewish culture and history. The Jewish community was born there as the town was founded. The Jewish center was established in the northern part, where the synagogue and other Jewish public buildings were eventually built.

Zhovkva (Zolkiew in Polish) preserved its Renaissance appearance until World War II. In 1994, the government listed central Zhovkva as a State Historical-Architectural Reserve. Forty sites are listed on the State Register of Architectural Monuments and Town Planning.

Of these, the fortified nine-bay synagogue is one of the finest; a superb example of monumental Eastern European Jewish architecture. In 1941, however, Zhovkva's German occupiers blew the synagogue up. The walls survived, but main hall columns, vaulting, and the annexes were ruined and/or completely destroyed. In 1955-1956, the synagogue was partially rebuilt; the facade was partially repaired in 1992-1993. The building, however, is now empty.Synagogue in Dire ConditionThe synagogue is partially destroyed and faces collapse and further decay. Following destruction the building was left empty and ruined. In 1955, interior columns, ceiling vaults and the prayer hall roof were partially restored. The entrance door and windows were recreated. The southern annex, however, and the vault of the second floor of the western annex are not restored, and a temporary roof is above these spaces. Repairs were made using poor materials and now the roofs cannot withstand the destructive effects of the elements. Masonry walls and vaults and timbers set within the load-bearing walls are overly damp making these sites particularly vulnerable to decay caused by microorganisms and frost.

Around the synagogue is higher ground, mostly accumulated debris that collects and retains runoff water. This perpetuates saturation of the wall. The brickwork at the bottom of the south wall and inside of the building is deeply corroded, or lost altogether. Town will Help The municipality of Zhovkav recognizes the need to preserve the synagogue and adapt it to an appropriate use. This can save an important cultural monument; stimulate economic and tourist activity; and provide fitting tribute to an essential component of the town's history that was brutally and destroyed. Preserving the synagogue as a regional museum for Galician Jewish History, Culture, and Art will serve these needs.

The first step is to conserve the building, requiring action to prevent collapse, stop deterioration, and reverse decades-old decay. When this is substantially underway, substantive planning and fund-raising for the complete building restoration and the creation of the museum can begin.

Civil authorities and organizations, as well as Jewish organizations support the organization of a Central-Museum of Jewish Culture of Galicia in the synagogue to consolidate dispersed holdings. All recognize that given the dire economic crisis in Ukraine, and limited outside funding, this complete project will take many years.

Synagogue at Zhovkav, Ukraine

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last update: 1/25/00