Thu 6 Sep 2012
Here is an odd and sad story – the story of a place of worship, the story of a place that witnessed the history of a Jewish community and was the symbol, the place of gathering and the center of life of this community. A place which was sold as a piece of real estate and its purpose changed. Instead of becoming a place of remembering it will soon forget all.
This was the second day of our trip in Western Romania. After having spent the night in Baile Herculane and then traveled for a few hours in the wild and picturesque valley of the river Cerna we descended to Turnu Severin.We stopped first at the walls of the medieval city which are also the head of the bridge built by Apolodor of Damascus in the years 103-105 when the Roman army entered Dacia to win the second and final war and conquer this territory. Then we went to the center of the city which looks quite nice and was quite and empty in that summer Sunday afternoon. There we noticed the building, a red bricks structure with a silhouette that looked familiar.
Without any doubt the building was a synagogue. Or better said it was once a synagogue, because now the firm outside indicated the present destination of the building – a notary office. What we were seeing was the former synagogue built in the center of the city in the second half of the 19th century by the Jewish community of Turnu Severin. The community was not too big in numbers, a mix of about 140 Ashkenazi and Sephardic families, but probably a wealthy and flourishing community as they could afford buying in this location and building the Jewish place of prayer in the heart of the city. I could find no information about the building on the Internet, not the exact year of its building, not about the architect and builder, not about the benefactors who contributed. I do not know if there are any archives of the community, there are certainly Jews who were born here, or descendants of the Jews born here living all over the world, they could have contributed with information, photographs, memorabilia, they could have helped to make this place a museum if there is no longer a viable community for praying, but the fate of the place was to be different.
I could actually find more information on the Internet about the transaction that settled the fate of the synagogue building. The case made some waves a few years ago. If the information I found is accurate, the building was sold by the Federation of Jewish Communities of Romania (FCER) in 2006 for the amount of 57,000 Euros (the price of an average apartment in Bucharest) to a family of notaries who opened here their office. Here are two articles (in Romanian) describing the story and the history.
We could not enter the building, the offices were closed on Sunday. Near the synagogue a big Christian Orthodox cathedral is being built, actually it looks close to completion, and it dwarfs the much modest (in size) synagogue. The building looks like it’s being maintained in good conditions, but soon the external architectonic details still existing that keep trace of the original purpose of the building may disappear, and with them the last memories of another Jewish community in Eastern Europe which is gone forever.