SZEGED: CSONG Print

Szeged Jewish Community website [March 2009]

 

"About two hours from Budapest is a magnificent, Moorish design 1,100-seat synagogue built on 1903. A memorial plaque lists its 4,000 members who died in the Holocaust." Source: Freedman, Warren. World Guide for the Jewish Traveler.. NY: E.P. Dutton Inc.

 

Synagogues Without Jews: photos. "After a long period when Jews and Roma (Gypsies) were not tolerated in Szeged, the first Jewish family settled there in 1781. By 1791, an organized community emerged. Two scholarly rabbis led the kehillah in Szeged, Leopold Loew (1811 -1875) and his son Imannuel Loew (1854 - 1944). Leopold Loew's term as rabbi (1850-1875) coincided with a period of political and intellectual ferment in central Europe that affected the Jewish community as well. Rabbi Loew led his kehillah in changes, such as delivering sermons in Hungarian. Moreover, he was a strong advocate of civil rights for Jews in Hungary. He maintained a careful balance when introducing religious reforms in order to stay within the framework of Jewish tradition. His research covered such varied topics as Jewish antiquities, folklore and the history of Hungarian Jewry.

The women of the Szeged kehillah were active in addressing communal needs: some prepared food in a food kitchen for the poor; some provided brides' necessities and also covered hospitalization for indigents. Szeged Jews kept a strong bond with other Jewish communities, especially in times of stress. They contributed money in 1857 for destitute Jews in Palestine and, among other locations, for Jews in Persia in 1872. Later, these donations continued and were not displaced by the monthly contributions to Keren Hayesod to aid settlement in Palestine. Jews extended their support to needy Christians as well, providing shelter during World War I to refugee orphans from Germany. Szeged's kehillah became a major center of the Neolog movement around 1900. The community did not split apart because its Orthodox minority chose to remain with the Neolog majority out of love and respect for the Loew rabbinical family.

The synagogue building. The kehillah received a permit to build its first synagogue in 1803, limited by church authorities to a small size. By mid-century, the city allowed the construction of a larger synagogue on condition that it be surrounded with a fence and topped with a chimney to resemble a dwelling, and thus, less noticeable to Szeged's Christians. The building proved inadequate for a Jewish population that grew to nearly 6,000 as the 20th century approached. They needed a synagogue of much larger dimensions, but they also wanted a design commensurate with their emancipation and their new economic status. After an architects' competition, an eclectic design by Lipot Baumhorn was chosen. In 1903, he completed the Szeged synagogue [1985  photo[, the brightest jewel in the crown of 24 synagogues that he built in greater Hungary. Rabbi Imannuel Loew, who received his father's pulpit in 1878 and remained active until 1944, was a guiding spirit in the design of the synagogue. The fruit of the collaboration between rabbi and architect can be seen in our photos. Some of Rabbi Loew's scholarly work focused on Biblical flora and fauna. Thus, he was the source for the floral motifs and Jewish symbols in the synagogue decoration.It is noteworthy that post-World War I cross-religious activity reached a high level, with visiting clergy preaching in synagogues and rabbis invited to sermonize in cathedrals.

During the anti-Jewish violence in 1921, called the White Terror-with an estimated 3,000 dead-Rabbi Loew was imprisoned for 13 months on an accusation of having maligned the fascist head of state, Admiral Horthy. Rabbi Loew exploited his time in jail to research his book, Die Flora der Juden, (The Plants of the Jews) on the botany of the Bible. From 1927 on, he served in the national parliament as the representative of Neolog Jewry. In 1932, Zionist activity, including Hashomer Hatzair, WIZO and Hechalutz movements spurted briefly ahead. However, because of conversions and the low birth rate, the Jewish population declined by about 40% between the wars to about 4,000 in 1941.

In pre-World War II Hungary, a sympathetic police chief quietly notified Jewish community heads in advance of impending hostile actions and tried to help circumvent them. By May 1944, after the Nazi invasion, Szeged Jews were herded into a ghetto set up around the synagogue square. The police dragged Jewish women through the streets from the ghetto to prison, where midwives stripped them and searched their bodies for hidden jewels. Cardinal Seredy tried in vain to mobilize Hungarian clergy for rescue work, but he succeeded only in preventing the expulsion of 200 baptized Jews. Ninety-year-old Rabbi Loew was marched off with others to work in the ghetto brick factory. In June, troops liquidated the ghetto and loaded the Jews onto Auschwitz-bound trains. The transport stopped briefly in Budapest, where alert Jews smuggled Rabbi Loew off the train and got him to the ghetto hospital. He died there after a brief respite.

After the war, people came out of bunkers and hiding places; some returned from the death camps. The Joint Distribution Committee was able to help the 2,000 Jews of the Szeged area in reestablishing their community. They reclaimed the synagogue, from storeroom to community use, and restored the old age home. The orphanage absorbed 400 new orphans from Budapest. Nevertheless, by the early 1990s, a diminished community numbered only a few hundred. It uses the bet midrash for prayer and study and keeps the synagogue open as a museum. On a festive day in September 1989, the community and hundreds of guests from Budapest and elsewhere rededicated the synagogue, newly renovated with the help of a donation from a former resident. The profusion of towers and delicate window traceries lends a festive character to the façade, behind the ground plantings of mature yews and pyramid oaks." [February 2009]

 

Jewish  Cemetery: Address: Fónógyári Way 9 [or at Fonógyári Road 13]. Hours: 8-16.00. Telephone: (70) 542-0961. [February 2009]

The Szeged cemetery is very large and still active. A handwritten list of graves, both names and gravesites, is maintained in the entrance building. It may be the only copy. The recent gravesites are well maintained, but the older areas were overgrown [date?]. Szeged municipality is interested in its care and has made some effort to keep it up. The Jewish community of several hundred people is involved and raises money to maintain the two synagoges and old age home. The leader of the community is Andras Lednitsky, the Executive Secretary of the medical school of the University of Szeged. Source: Bob Steiner; This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it [date?]

Last Updated on Sunday, 14 June 2009 20:32