The world’s newest Jewish museum — the museum of the Jewish community of Bratislava — opened in the women’s gallery of the city’s sole remaining synagogue (at Heydukova 11-13) on Sunday, June 17. JHE coordinater Ruth Ellen Gruber visited a few days later, with the Museum’s curator and guiding force, Dr. Maros Borsky.
The museum occupies a relatively small space — just 150 square meters or so, but its design and well conceived structure make it seem much larger; in many ways it is a model for what can be accomplished. As the wall panels (in Slovak and English) state, the exhibit uses a few selected objects from the Jewish community’s collections to tell the centuries-old story of Jews in Bratislava. It is anchored, thus, in the community and in this way forms a complement to the “general” state-run Museum of Jewish Culture, which is a branch of the Slovak National Museum.
The new museum is not “minimalist” but the selected objects and their arrangement do not overwhelm; they engage visitors and also anchor a narrative.
Exhibits are arranged in three spaces. A sort of antechamber (“the arcade”) is to be dedicated to special exhibitions: at the moment it houses an exhibit of photographic panels highlighting key Jewish heritage sites in Bratislava and its region.
The permanent exhibits are arranged in a larger main hall, and a narrow side corridor. Both open on to the sanctuary of the synagogue, a cubist/modernist building designed by the noted Slovak architect Artur Szalatnai-Slatinsky (1891-1961) and inaugurated in 1926. The synagogue thus forms part of the exhibit. The museum logo is taken from the design of the windows of the synagogue.
The main exhibit is divided into three sections: before the Holocaust along one long axis (mainly wall-mounted or in recessed glass-fronted cases); the Holocaust period, along the short back wall (which is painted with the surnames of Bratislava Jews killed in the Shoah); and post-Holocaust in a long, horizontal glass case along the second long axis (the arched balcony overlooking the sanctuary).
The exhibits include few objects of Judaica per se: rather, there are documents, photographs, books, paintings and other artifacts related to Jewish life and society in all three periods. The Holocaust section, for example, includes a tattered sweater, on loan from Dr. Pavel Traubner, the honorary chairman of the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Slovakia: as a child in hiding for months in the winter of 1944-45, this was the only sweater he wore.
The Museum’s narrow second space, called the Judaica or “Open Storage” corridor, houses the main objects from the collection put together after World War II by the architect Eugen Barkany, a pioneer in Slovak Jewish heritage work. (Barkany had established Slovakia’s first Jewish museum, in his hometown of Presov, in 1928 and items from that collection are on display in the Presov synagogue.) The items he collected post-war were originally kept in the Bratislava Neolog synagogue that was demolished in 1968-69. They were then stored by the Slovak National Museum and eventually returned to the Jewish community in 2002.
All the displayed objects in both sections of the museum exhibit are clearly numbered. There is little information provided about them where they are displayed, but catalogues (in English and Slovak) give details, provenance, etc. At the moment the catalogues are simply paper handouts — but a detailed illustrated catalogue, which will be for sale, is under preparation.
At the present the museum is open two days a week — Sunday and Friday. You can find detailed information (including GPS coordinates!) on the very informative web site.
Congratulations to Dr. Borsky, the Bratislava Jewish community and to all involved!