Žilina, Orthodox synagogue
The Orthodox synagogue is today the center of local Jewish activities. Originally constructed in the 1920s by the breakaway Orthodox congregation, it is small, single-story structure in a quiet residential neighborhood. The basement, once the site of a mikvah (ritual bath), is today used as a shop. The sanctuary is fully preserved with its original furnishings and typical 1920s-style geometric ornamentation. A wooden screen, or mechitzah, forms an internal division between the men’s and women’s sections. In the rear, in the women’s section, a small Judaica exhibition of the local Jewish community is installed. The collection includes precious ritual and other objects from pre-war Jewish communities in Žilina itself and elsewhere in northern Slovakia. The highlights of the collection are painstakingly restored Torah curtains (parochot).
Žilina was an important center of Jewish life in northern Slovakia. It developed as such only in the nineteenth century, as the presence of Jews was long limited before that. The first synagogue was built in 1850 and served until 1928, when a new synagogue, designed in striking modernist style by the famous German architect Peter Behrens (1868-1940), was constructed. This synagogue has been painstakingly restored by a local non-profit organization and serves as a center for contemporary culture. Following the schism in Hungarian Jewry, the Žilina community opted for the Neolog movement; Orthodox Jews eventually established their own small, separate community in 1921. Žilina has always been an important railway hub, and during the Holocaust a transit camp was established here. A memorial marks its site.
In April 1944, two Slovak prisoners, Rudolf Vrba and Alfred Wetzler, managed to escape from the Auschwitz concentration camp and arrived in Žilina, where they provided a detailed report about Nazi crimes in the camp. A memorial exhibition commemorating them has been recently established. There is still an active Jewish community in town, numbering about 50 members.
Daniela Dlabača 15