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Zagreb Synagogue

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Zagreb Synagogue
Zagrebačka sinagoga
Sinagoga1906 11.jpg
Zagreb Synagogue on a 1906 postcard
Basic information
Location Zagreb, Croatia
Geographic coordinates 45°48′42.5″N 15°58′41″E / 45.811806°N 15.97806°E / 45.811806; 15.97806Coordinates: 45°48′42.5″N 15°58′41″E / 45.811806°N 15.97806°E / 45.811806; 15.97806
Affiliation Judaism
Year consecrated 1867
Status Destroyed (1941–1942)
Leadership Miroslav Šalom Freiberger
Architectural description
Architect(s) Franjo Klein
Architectural type Synagogue
Architectural style Moorish Revival
General contractor Jewish Community of Zagreb
Direction of façade West
Groundbreaking 1866
Completed 1867
Capacity 488 (original design)[1]
708 (1923 adaptation)[1]
Length 30 m (98 ft)[2]
Width 19.7 m (65 ft)[2]
Height (max) 24 m (79 ft)[2]

The Zagreb Synagogue (Croatian: Zagrebačka sinagoga) was the main place of worship for the Jewish community of Zagreb in modern-day Croatia, from its construction in 1867 in the Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia within the Austrian Empire, until its demolition by the fascist authorities in 1941 in the Axis-aligned Independent State of Croatia.

The Moorish Revival synagogue was located on modern-day Praška Street and has been the only purpose-built Jewish house of worship in the history of the city. It was one of the city's most prominent public buildings, as well as one of the most esteemed examples of synagogue architecture in the region.[3]

Since the 1980s, plans have been made to rebuild the synagogue in its original location, but due to various political circumstances, very limited progress has been made. The current major disagreements which inhibit the construction of a new synagogue concern the involvement of Jewish organizations in the reconstruction and the design and character of the new building.


Further information: History of the Jews in Croatia

Jews first permanently settled in Zagreb in the late eighteenth century, and founded the Jewish community in 1806.[2][4] In 1809 the Jewish community had a rabbi and in 1811 it had its own cemetery.[2] As early as 1833, the community was permitted to buy land for construction of a synagogue, but there was not enough money to finance the construction of one.[5][6]

By 1855, the community had grown to 700 members[2] and, on October 30 of that year, the decision was made to build a new Jewish synagogue.[6][7] The construction committee, appointed in 1861,[2] selected and purchased a parcel of land at the corner of Maria Valeria Street (now Praška Street) and Ban Jelačić Square, the central town square.[8] However, a new urban planning scheme of 1864 reduced the area available for construction, and the community decided to buy another parcel of 1,540 square metres (16,600 sq ft) in Maria Valeria Street,[8] approximately 80 metres (260 ft) south of the original location.

Design and construction[edit]

Further information: Moorish Revival architecture
Computer reconstruction of the ground-floor and first-floor levels of the Zagreb Synagogue.

Franjo Klein, a Vienna-born Zagreb architect, was commissioned to build the synagogue.[2] Klein, a representative of romantic historicism, modeled the building on the Viennese Leopoldstädter Tempel (1858), a Moorish Revival temple designed by Ludwig Förster that would become a prototype for synagogue design in Central Europe.[2] Zagreb Synagogue used the already developed round arch style (Rundbogenstil), but did not adopt Förster's early oriental motifs.[2]

Computer reconstruction of the cross section of the Zagreb Synagogue.
Synagogue's interior was photographed in 1880 by Ivan Standl.

The composition of the main facade, with its dominant drawn-out and elevated projection and the two symmetrical lower lateral parts, reflects the internal division into three naves.[2] At ground-floor level the front was distinguished by the three-arch entrance and bifora, whereas the first-floor level had a high triforium with an elevated arch and the quadrifoliate rosettes on the staircases.[2]

The synagogue occupied the greater part of the plot, facing west, and receding from the street regulation-line in accordance with the rule then still enforced in Austria–Hungary, where non-Catholic places of worship could not have a public entrance from the street.[2] The synagogue had a wider and slightly higher central nave and two narrower naves; unlike the Förster's synagogue in Vienna, it did not have a basilical plan.[2]

Construction began in 1866 and was completed the following year.[2] The synagogue was officially consecrated on September 27, 1867, in the presence of the representatives of city and regional authorities, Zagreb public figures, and many citizens.[2] It was the first prominent public building in Zagreb's lower town, and its architecture and scale aroused general admiration and praise.[2][9]

19th and early 20th century[edit]

Demolition in 1941.
One of the surviving memorial tables, on display at the Zagreb City Museum, marked the occasion of reconsecration after the 1881 repair.

With the new synagogue, an organ was introduced into religious service.[10] For the small minority of Orthodox Jews, this was intolerable, and from that point on, they held their services separately, in rented rooms.[11]

In the 1880 Zagreb earthquake, the synagogue suffered minor damage and was repaired the following year.[1]

Largely due to immigration from Hungary, Bohemia and Moravia,[10] the Jewish population of Zagreb quickly grew in size: from 1,285 members in 1887 to 3,237 members in 1900, and then to 5,970 members in 1921.[7] The synagogue became too small to accommodate the needs of the ever-growing community, and in 1923, it saw its only major adaptation, aimed at increasing the number of available seats.[12] A 1931 plan to further increase the capacity to 944 seats was ultimately abandoned.[1] A central heating system was installed in 1933.[2]

Demolition during World War II[edit]

Further information: The Holocaust in Croatia
Model of the Zagreb Synagogue on display at the Zagreb City Museum.

During the 1941 collapse of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia under Axis invasion in the April War, the Independent State of Croatia was created, ruled by the extreme nationalist Ustaša regime. The Ustaša quickly started with the systematic persecution of the Jews, modeled after the Nazi Germany approach, and at times even more brutal.[13] Racial laws were introduced, Jewish property was confiscated, and the Jews were subjected to mass arrests and deportations to death camps in Croatia and abroad.[13]

The synagogue's wash-basin was salvaged from the rubble after the end of World War II.

In October 1941, the newly installed mayor of Zagreb, Ivan Werner, issued a decree ordering the demolition of the Praška Street synagogue, ostensibly because it did not fit into the city's master plan.[1][2][8] The demolition began on October 10, 1941,[7] proceeding slowly so as not to damage the adjacent buildings,[8] and was finished by April 1942.[2] The whole process was photographed for propaganda purposes, and the photographs were shown to the public at an antisemitic exhibition first held in Zagreb which was also shown in Dubrovnik, Karlovac, Sarajevo, Vukovar and Zemun, as an illustration of the "solution of the Jewish question in Croatia".[12] Film footage of the demolition was only discovered five decades later by the film director Lordan Zafranović during research for his 1993 documentary feature, Decline of the Century: Testimony of L. Z.; only 41 seconds of the film survives.[1][14] This footage was also shown in Mira Wolf's documentary, The Zagreb Synagogue 1867-1942 (1996), produced by Croatian Radiotelevision.[15]

The synagogue's eight valuable Torah scrolls were saved due to an intervention by Leonardo Grivičić, an entrepreneur and industrialist who lived next door from Mile Budak, a minister in the Ustaša government, and who was also personally close to Poglavnik Ante Pavelić and the Third Reich's ambassador to Croatia, Edmund Glaise-Horstenau.[16] Although Grivičić did not have a significant political role in the Independent State of Croatia, he was considered a person of trust.[16] On October 9, 1941, he learned about the regime's plan to start the demolition of the synagogue on the following morning.[16] By that evening, Grivičić secretly relayed the information to the synagogue's chief cantor, Grüner, and during the night, the Torah scrolls were moved to safety.[16]

Shortly after the destruction of the synagogue, the Catholic archbishop of Zagreb Aloysius Stepinac delivered a homily in which he said: "A house of God of any faith is a holy thing, and whoever harms it will pay with their lives. In this world and the next they will be punished.".[17]

The only surviving fragments of the building — the wash-basin and two memorial tables from the forecourt, as well as some parts of a column — were saved by Ivo Kraus, who pulled them from the rubble shortly after the end of World War II.[2][12][18] The wash-basin and the memorial tables are now in the Zagreb City Museum, while the column fragments are kept by Jewish Community of Zagreb.[2][8]

Reconstruction efforts[edit]

A memorial plaque in Hebrew and Croatian at 7 Praška Street, unveiled in 1986,[7][19] marks the site of the former synagogue.


Only one in five Croatian Jews survived World War II.[13] Between 1948 and 1952, nearly one half of the surviving members of Jewish Community of Zagreb opted for emigration to Israel,[7][19] and the community dropped to one-tenth of its pre-war membership.[4][19] The Yugoslav communist regime nationalized virtually all real estate owned by the Jewish Community of Zagreb, including the plot in Praška Street.[9][20] All this, combined with the new regime's general hostility toward religion, made reconstruction of the synagogue a virtually unattainable goal.

After World War II, the vacant site of the former synagogue was used as a makeshift volleyball court.[21] The volleyball court made way for a prefabricated department store building, constructed in 1959.[12][21] The department store was completely destroyed in a fire on December 31, 1980,[12] and was subsequently dismantled. Despite some earlier ideas about a permanent department store building on the same spot, and a 1977 architecture competition for its design, no construction took place.[12] Instead, the parcel was turned into a parking lot, which it remains to this day.[15][22][23][24]

The first real reconstruction initiatives appeared only after 1986, when the Jewish Community of Zagreb began to consider a Jewish cultural center and a memorial synagogue.[12] Two architects, Branko Silađin and Boris Morsan, both of whom participated in the failed 1977 department store competition, came forward on their own accord and contributed their ideas for a new Jewish center in Praška Street.[12] Silađin's vision was ultimately not accepted by the Jewish community; instead, plans were being made for the construction of the cultural center and a synagogue, following an international architecture competition.[12] However, despite support from both home and abroad, the issuance of necessary permits was either stalled or denied by the municipal government, and the project did not materialize.[12][25]


A parking lot in Praška Street, where the synagogue was located.

By the autumn of 1990, after the first democratic elections in Croatia, the municipal government finally greenlighted the project, and the architecture competition was planned for January 1991.[25] However, political turmoil in the country, followed by the breakup of Yugoslavia and the Croatian War of Independence (1991–1995), caused the project to be put on hold again.[25] In 1994 President of Croatia Franjo Tuđman said to Jakov Bienenfeld, Council member of the Zagreb Jewish community, that they should build the new synagogue at the site of the former synagogue, which will be funded by the Croatian government. Bienenfeld declined the offer believing to be inappropriate when 1800 Catholic churches are left destroyed at the time, during Croatian War of Independence.[26]

In the meantime, the Jewish Community of Zagreb sought to legally reacquire its property. The Croatian denationalization law was enacted in 1996,[3][16] and the Praška Street parcel was finally returned to the community on December 31, 1999.[12] By 2000, reconstruction activities were invigorated again.[27] An investment study was submitted to the Government of Croatia and the City of Zagreb in July 2004 and revised in October 2004.[27] The architecture competition was planned for 2005.[28] However, a 2005 rift in the Jewish Community of Zagreb resulted in formation of a splinter Jewish community, Bet Israel, led by Ivo and Slavko Goldstein.[29]

In September 2006, the Government of Croatia formed a construction workgroup.[28] It was decided that the project, estimated at the time at HRK 173 million (US$ 30 million), would be partially financed by the Government of Croatia and the City of Zagreb,[20][23] and that both Jewish organizations should be represented in the workgroup.[27][28][30] However, the involvement of Bet Israel was deemed unacceptable by the Jewish Community of Zagreb, which is the sole owner of the Praška Street property,[23][30] and which also sees itself as the sole legal representative of the Zagreb Jewish community.[28] As a consequence, the community and its president, Ognjen Kraus, refused further participation in the project under the set conditions.[30]

Further disagreements exist about the design and character of the new building. Facsimile reconstruction, while feasible, is not seriously contemplated.[8] There is a general agreement that the new building should also have a cultural as well as commercial purpose.[28] While the Jewish Community of Zagreb envisions a modern design reminiscent of the original synagogue, the Bet Israel advocates building a replica of the original synagogue's facade, perceiving it as having a powerful symbolism.[28] Opinions of architects, urban planners, and art historians are also divided along similar lines.[8] Although none of the involved parties abandoned the reconstruction, no progress has been made since 2006,[30] and as of 2009, the future of the project is uncertain.

In 2013 Jutarnji list published that the new Jewish memorial center will be built at the site of the former synagogue.[26]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Kusin, Vesna (December 9, 2001). "U ozračju svjetla hanukije" (PDF). Vjesnik (in Croatian). Retrieved 2009-05-14. [dead link]
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v Knežević, Snješka (2001). "The Synagogue of Zagreb, 1867-1942" (PDF). The Synagogue and Zagreb. Jewish Community of Zagreb. pp. 42–46. Retrieved 2010-02-26. 
  3. ^ a b "Vraćen i prostor u Praškoj ulici gdje je nekad bila zagrebačka sinagoga". Vjesnik (in Croatian). January 12, 2001. 
  4. ^ a b Kraus, Ognjen. "200th anniversary of the Jewish Community of Zagreb". Croatian Post. Retrieved 2009-04-12. 
  5. ^ Švob, Melita (September 2006). "Uz 200 godišnjicu Židovske općine u Zagrebu" (PDF). Ha-kol (in Croatian) (Jewish Community of Zagreb) (96): 23–29. ISSN 1332-5892. Retrieved 2009-04-26. 
  6. ^ a b "140. godina posvećenja zagrebačke sinagoge" (PDF). Ha-kol (in Croatian) (Jewish Community of Zagreb) (101): 22–25. July 2007. ISSN 1332-5892. Retrieved 2009-05-20. 
  7. ^ a b c d e "Historical background of the Jewish community of Zagreb". Jewish Community of Zagreb. Retrieved 2008-01-29. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Kusin, Vesna (February 18, 2001). "Hoće li se u Zagrebu graditi nova ili faksimilno rekonstruirati stara sinagoga?" (PDF). Vjesnik (in Croatian). Retrieved 2009-02-08. [dead link]
  9. ^ a b Hofman, Renewed Survival, p. 67.
  10. ^ a b Schwarz, Gabriel (1901–1906). "Agram (Zagreb)". Jewish Encyclopedia. Funk & Wagnalls. pp. 239–240. Retrieved 2009-04-05. 
  11. ^ Hofman, Renewed Survival, p. 24.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Knežević, Snješka. "Sinagoga — simbol sudbine zagrebačkih Židova" (PDF) (in Croatian). Retrieved 2008-01-29. 
  13. ^ a b c Goldstein, Ivo (2001). "The Genocide against the Jews in the Independent State of Croatia" (PDF). The Synagogue and Zagreb. Jewish Community of Zagreb. pp. 20–23. Retrieved 2010-02-26. 
  14. ^ Smale, Alison (December 19, 1993). "Movie takes an honest look at war-torn Balkans". The Daily Gazette. Associated Press. 
  15. ^ a b "Jewish Heritage Sites in Croatia: Preliminary Report" (PDF). United States Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad. 2005. p. 6. Retrieved 2009-04-19. 
  16. ^ a b c d e Cvitić, Plamenko (November 19, 2007). "Zagorčeva milijunska prijevara" [Zagorac committed a fraud worth millions]. Nacional (in Croatian) (627). Archived from the original on 11 July 2012. Retrieved 2009-04-02. 
  17. ^ Goldstein, Ivo (2001). Holokaust u Zagrebu (in Croatian). Novi Liber. p. 386. ISBN 953-6045-19-2. 
  18. ^ Bajruši, Robert; Biluš, Marina; Zahtila, Viktor (15 February 2005). "Židovi koji su izgradili moderni Zagreb" [Jews who built modern Zagreb] (in Croatian) (483). Nacional. Archived from the original on 4 July 2012. Retrieved 4 July 2012. 
  19. ^ a b c "European Jewish Congress — Croatia". European Jewish Congress. Retrieved 2009-04-05. 
  20. ^ a b "Zagreb Jews seek new synagogue". Ynetnews (Yedioth Ahronoth). Reuters. April 10, 2006. Retrieved 2009-04-13. 
  21. ^ a b Zečević, Nataša (October 16, 2002). "Dobrotvornim koncertima do nove sinagoge" (PDF). Vjesnik (in Croatian). Retrieved 2009-04-12. [dead link]
  22. ^ Hofman, Renewed Survival, p. 77.
  23. ^ a b c Kos Bučar, Dajana (November 20, 2006). "Sinagoga da, ali po čijoj mjeri" (PDF). Zagrebački komunalni vjesnik (in Croatian) (City of Zagreb). XXII. (337): 10. ISSN 1845-822X. Retrieved 2010-12-30. 
  24. ^ Barišić, Marko (March 19, 2000). "Priprema se gradnja Židovskog kulturnog centra u Zagrebu" (PDF). Vjesnik (in Croatian). Retrieved 2009-04-13. [dead link]
  25. ^ a b c Mandić-Mušćet, Jelena (May 13, 2005). "Sinagoga koja se čeka 60 godina" (PDF). Vjesnik (in Croatian). Retrieved 2009-04-26. [dead link]
  26. ^ a b "'GRADNJA SINAGOGE U ZAGREBU JE PROMAŠAJ!' Najuspješniji židovski poduzetnik u Hrvatskoj Jakov Bienenfeld". (in Croatian) (Jutarnji list). 
  27. ^ a b c "Kasni gradnja sinagoge". (in Croatian). March 10, 2008. Retrieved 2010-10-31. 
  28. ^ a b c d e f Knežević, Snješka (January 2008). "Anatomija jedne prevare" (PDF). Ha-kol (in Croatian) (Jewish Community of Zagreb) (103): 7–10. ISSN 1332-5892. Retrieved 2009-05-18. 
  29. ^ Pandža, Gordan (September 15, 2006). "Sinagogu u Zagrebu gradit će obje općine" (PDF). Vjesnik (in Croatian). Retrieved 2009-05-17. [dead link]
  30. ^ a b c d Goldstein, Ivo (September 23, 2009). "Mi smo za suradnju, a prof. Kraus to odbija". Jutarnji list (in Croatian). Retrieved 2009-09-23. 


Further reading[edit]