Spišské Podhradie was once an important rabbinical center for the Orthodox Jewish community, with many institutions and communal buildings. Although Jews had been in this region as early as the first century A.D., it was not until 1840 that Spišské Podhradie first allowed Jews to settle in the town. The Jewish community peaked in the 1930s at around 450 members. Today, the only traces of the town’s Jewish past are the Spišské Podhradie Synagogue and a Jewish cemetery located a few miles outside of town. The synagogue, a typical example of a rural synagogue in this region, was constructed in the 1870s and renovated after a fire in the early 1900s. It has a simple façade surrounded by four pillars topped with stone spheres. The interior has been relatively well preserved: the Torah ark, the cast iron columns supporting the women’s gallery, and some painted decorations all survive intact.
How We Helped
After Spišské Podhradie lost its Jewish community during World War II, the synagogue remained abandoned for nearly 60 years. Neglect led to deterioration, and a number of organizations came together in the late 1990s to help save the synagogue. WMF was part of this group and focused its efforts on assisting with the synagogue’s exterior restoration. The site’s conservation is nearly complete, and it has been a center for cultural activities for the past decade. Once the project is fully completed, the women’s gallery will house a permanent exhibition as a branch of the Museum of Jewish Culture in Bratislava. This museum was established in 1993 as a branch of the Slovak National Museum, which at the time was developing specialized exhibitions to represent each prominent minority in Slovakia. In addition to Spišské Podhradie, there are exhibitions installed in the women’s galleries of five other synagogues throughout the country.
Why It Matters
Spišské Podhradie Synagogue is the only remaining built fabric of a once prominent Jewish community and serves as a reminder for this important past. By hosting cultural events in this space and integrating the site into a larger educational initiative about Jewish history in Slovakia, the synagogue is helping to bring more economic opportunities to the town, which is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.