Monday, September 8, 2008

Yet More on Travnik Synagogue

Jakob Finci, the head of the Jewish community in Bosnia, confirmed that the synagogue in Travnik demolished last week to make way for a shopping center was NOT the 18th century Kalkados synagogue, which already had been destroyed in 1860, but another built in 1860 to replace it. Last used for worship in 1941 and damaged during World War II, it had been sold to the town in the 1950s by the Bosnian Jewish community. Stripped of any indication of its former use, it was used as a metal workshop for decades. In late August, news of the impending demolition sparked an ultimately unsuccessful local campaign to save the building, as a reminder of Bosnia's historic multi-cultural heritage. Many of those who protested the demolition identfied the building as the historic 18th century synagogue.

Here is a piece by Ivan Ceresnjes detailing the history of Travnik Jews and Jewish monuments:

"A Jewish community has existed in Travnik, Muslim Croat Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, since 1768, and the first synagogue was built in 1769. During the period of the Ottoman Empire, Travnik was the seat of the Pasha, making Travnik the most important city in the Ottoman province of Bosnia and its Jewish community the second in importance, after Sarajevo. The number of Jews increased constantly, and reached a peak in 1940 of 375 Jews. After WWII only a few Jewish families resettled in Travnik and the recent war delivered the final deathblow to the Jewish community.

"I was not able to enter the synagogue, built in 1860 on the foundations of the previous synagogue and therefore the building is only partially documented. The communal chronicles say that the synagogue was built entirely by voluntary work of members of the community between Pesach and Rosh Hashana.

"Travnik is in a way strange City when Jews are in question: during the WW II Jews were killed, synagogue was damaged (but not destroyed) and all ritual objects all were taken by the local Croatian and Moslem Nazi-collaborators to the nearby Jesuit monastery. After the war only a handful of survivors returned, and since the synagogue was not suitable for prayers Jesuits returned everything to the Jewish community in Sarajevo.
In the spring of 1941, local fascists partially burned and looted the building, took the ritual objects (Torah scrolls, silver items from synagogue, books, tefillim, tallitot) from the synagogue and gave them to the local Jesuits. After the war, the Jesuits returned the Torah and ritual objects to the Jewish community in Sarajevo which in turn donated part of the collection to the Jewish museum in Belgrade.

"The synagogue was stripped of everything that would indicate its former use. The hall has been divided horizontally on the level of the former women’s gallery, whose entrance was from the outside. Behind the synagogue is a building which housed a Jewish school and the Rabbi’s apartment.

"So, truth is that the building has been sold by the Federation in early '50, (there were good reasons for that and I can elaborate on that), used for some time as a kind of metal workshop and was abandoned before the last war so the Jewish Community had no legal rights on the building but the truth is also that Municipality of Travnik and local City Museum asked more than once if Jews are interested to find together with them some solution for the survival of the only Jewish prayer-house in the city for any kind of cultural use.

"In the City Museum are four recently discovered silver artifacts, thought to be from the house of one of the oldest Jewish families of Travnik. Researchers documented two silver Esther Scroll cases, a silver book cover belonging to the family of Yaacov Yeruham Konforti, and a silver belt. The cache was found while digging the foundations of a new house in 1989. It was presumably hidden and buried at the site of Konforti’s house.

"One of the Esther Scrolls is engraved with Konforti’s name and the date 5650 (1890). There is also an engraved floral decoration and a hallmark indicating that this was made by the same artisan who made the prayer book cover.

"The second Esther Scroll is silver, machine stamped and chased. A cartouche decorating the scroll has a decorative monogram with the letters JK, probably Jacob or Jeruham Konforti.

"The silver book cover is engraved with an open work interlaced foliage motif. On the front cover there is an oval medallion inscribed with the family name and the date 5650. The back cover is identical to the front including the oval, but without the inscription. Both the engraving and the cutting for the open work are done by machine.

"The fourth item that was found in the cache is a silver belt made with a floral motif.

"The Jewish cemetery in Travnik, founded in 1762, is outside of the town on the slope of one of the surrounding hills, bordering the Catholic cemetery. It is large, quite overgrown with vegetation, but in decent condition. In the center of the plot is a monument to those who perished in WWII. It is a concrete pedestal on which are positioned three tombstones, possibly among the oldest ones from the cemetery. "


  1. Dear Ruth!

    I like your blog and websites.

    How about Budapest Jewish heritage?
    I am actually living in one of the Budapest Jewish Heritage areas.

    You are welcome to budapest any time!
    i wish you all the best and keep on!

  2. Thanks! I go to Bp fairly often and will probably write something next time I'm there.