The only remaining synagogue in Bratislava is located on Heydukova Street, not far from the historical city center. It was constructed in 1923-1924 after designs by architect Arthur Szalatnai-Slatinský as a branch synagogue of the Orthodox Jewish community. The synagogue exterior has a towerless, seven-pillared colonnade facing the street. The interior includes a large sanctuary in which modern steel-and-concrete construction and contemporary Cubist details are combined with historicist elements, such as the arcade of the women’s gallery, a metal bimah, and the ark. The architecture fulfills traditional religious requirements, such as separation of men and women and placement of the bimah in the center, but it also features modern facilities. The permanent and special exhibitions of the Jewish Community Museum in the women’s gallery can be visited during the summer season. The synagogue features an attractive “hidden” garden, which is a green oasis in the center of Bratislava.
The synagogue serves as an active Jewish house of worship. Visitors must adopt modest dress while visiting; men are kindly requested to cover their heads.
The Jewish history of Bratislava
The city was for centuries an important center of Jewish life. The Jewish presence in the medieval city was regulated by a municipal charter granted by King Andrew III Arpád, in 1291. One section of the document stipulated that Jews had the right to reside within the city walls, elect their own mayor, and pay taxes directly to the King. Later, the Jews were expelled from the city on several occasions, the last time in 1526. In 1599, they returned to Bratislava, but not to the town proper. Invited by Count Pálffy, they settled in a narrow zone between the castle hill and the city fortifications. The so-called Judengasse, a part of the area controlled by the Castle, remained the only place where Jews were allowed to live until 1840. In the first half of the nineteenth century, Bratislava became an important center of Jewish learning. The Chatam Sofer established a famous yeshiva (rabbinical school), and at the same time his opponents in the community opened a modern Jewish primary school. Later, there were two Jewish communities in Bratislava, one Orthodox and one Neolog, each with its own large synagogue. Most of Bratislava’s Jews were killed in the Holocaust, but it was after World War II that most of the Jewish built heritage in the city was destroyed. The Orthodox synagogue was demolished in 1961, and the rest of the Judengasse, along with the Neolog synagogue, was razed in 1969, when the new SNP Bridge was constructed. The political changes after the fall of Communism in 1989 brought a renaissance of Jewish life to Bratislava. Today there is an active Jewish community, which maintains a full range of religious, cultural, educational, and social activities. In 1996, a Holocaust memorial was erected on the site of the demolished Neolog synagogue.