Dohany Street Synagogue, Budapest
This photograph depicts the Dohany Street Synagogue in Budapest, Hungary – the largest synagogue in Europe. The synagogue, built in 1858, belonged to the Neolog Jewish community and is situated in a very prominent position in the city centre. It was one of the first synagogues to be built in the Moorish style. The façade is red, blue, and yellow – the official colours of the Budapest flag at the time. Above the entrance to the synagogue are the two tablets and underneath is the Biblical inscription “And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them”(Exodus 25:8). The interior is elaborately decorated with some very large chandeliers and a mosaic style roof. It is home to a very large organ, a typical feature of non-Orthodox synagogues of the time.
Jews have lived in Hungary for approximately 600 years. Attitudes towards the Jewish community differed depending on the leaders at the time. Some were very welcoming, while at other times, Jews were subject to harsh taxation and blood libels and were expelled from certain areas of Hungary. By the mid-nineteenth century Jews had achieved full emancipation and the community prospered, which is reflected in the size, prominence, and central location of the synagogue. The Jewish community at the time consisted of Orthodox, traditionalists (Status Quo Ante) and Neolog communities. The Dohany Synagogue was used by the Neolog community who, like the Reform movement, wished to modernise Judaism.
Prior to World War I, the Jews comprised around 5% of the total Hungarian population and 23% of the population of Budapest. At the outbreak of World War II, the Jewish population numbered around 825,000 with fewer than 200,000 surviving. In 1944, towards the end of the war, the Nazis took over Hungary. The Jews of Budapest, and other cities were sent to live in crowded ghettos. In Budapest many Jews were assembled at the Dohany Synagogue from where they were sent to their deaths. Two thousand Jews who died in the ghetto were buried next to the Dohany Street Synagogue.
After the war, only 140,000 Jews remained in Hungary. Many left the country, immigrating to Israel and other Western countries. In the following years, the Jews remaining in Hungary were challenged once again, this time by Communist rule. However, after the fall of Communism in Hungary, the community was revitalised. In 1990, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, designed by Imre Varga, was erected in the courtyard of the Dohany Synagogue commemorating the individuals and communities that perished in the Shoah. Behind the memorial, there is also a tombstone memorial in honour of the Righteous Gentile Raoul Wallenberg who rescued many Hungarian Jews. Today the synagogue complex also houses the Jewish museum of Budapest and the Hungarian Jewish archives.
Today the Jewish community of Hungary is the largest in East Central Europe with most living in the capital, Budapest. Budapest has 20 active synagogues and a variety of Jewish religious and cultural institutions. There is debate about the number of Jews living in the country, ranging from 35,000 to 120,000, as most Hungarian Jews are unaffiliated and therefore the number is hard to verify.
This photograph can be used in Jewish History classes about European Jewish communities, synagogues, Neolog Judaism, and the Holocaust.
Art teachers can use this when teaching about synagogue architecture and the influence of the Moorish style.
What is this building?
Describe the building, referring to its style, size, shape, tower, windows, arches, etc.
Reading Between the Lines
This is a photograph of the Dohany Street Synagogue in Budapest. The date of the photograph is unknown. Based on what you can see in the photograph, when do you think it may have been taken?
Look at the people passing the building and compare them to the height of the synagogue.
How large do you think it is?
What does this tell us about the situation of the community at the time the synagogue was built?
Theodor Herzl lived on this street and had his bar mitzvah at this synagogue.
Who was he, and what is he famous for?
What is the ideology of Neolog Judaism?
How did this synagogue survive the Holocaust?
Research the history of the Jewish community of Hungary.
How old is this community?
What changes happened to the community during the different periods?
How was the community affected by the Holocaust?
What happened to the community after World War II?
Is the Dohany Synagogue still functioning today?
Have you ever attended a synagogue?
Compare it to the Dohany Synagogue and to others around the world.
Does your family have roots in Hungary?
If so, what is their story? If not, do you know anyone else with roots there?
Have you visited Budapest?
If so, did you visit the Dohany Synagogue? What were your impressions?
Create a model of the Dohany Street Synagogue based on this and other photographs.