This letter is in response to Milan Vajda's statements in a recent article by Chris Togneri entitled "From the Jewish Ghetto to the French Metro: Old Town Spokesman Milan Vajda reflects on Bratislava's Development" (Vol. 5 No. 9, March 8 to 14).
I deeply appreciate Mr. Vajda's description of the old [Bratislava] synagogue and the place that it played in the lives of the city's Jewish community over the centuries. The history of this synagogue, the main one in both Bratislava and Slovakia, as Mr. Vadja explains, is a long and glorious one and goes back many centuries.
However, I question Mr. Vajda's conviction that the destruction of the synagogue by the former socialist regime was not an example of anti-Semitism. The decision to place a new bridge - Nový Most - on top of the synagogue was a direct and clear slap at the remaining Jewish population of Bratislava and the greater world Jewish community. Looking now at the landscape of Bratislava, it is easy to argue that Nový Most could have been built across the Danube without having to destroy approximately 500 buildings, including the synagogue in the Old Town.
I also doubt Mr. Vajda's claim that there were almost no Jews living in Bratislava at the time the synagogue was bulldozed. Jews there were indeed, but they were, for the most part, silent and powerless, having been deprived of most of their possessions and being in no position to fight the government's decision to destroy the old Jewish section of Bratislava.
There is, of course, no need to dwell on the fact that most Slovak Jews had either been deported by the Nazi-influenced Slovak regime of World War II or had fled to other lands or changed their religion to avoid persecution. The historical record is clear and needs no elaboration.
As Mr. Vadja points out, the tearing-down of the synagogue was a crime not only against the Jewish population but also against all of Slovakia. The facts seems to indicate that the synagogue was torn down not because it was in the way of the bridge, but instead that the planned path of the bridge ensured that the synagogue would have to be torn down for a "public purpose."
What remains to be done? Are we to silently stand by and do nothing? With the rebirth of the Old Town since 1989, can we not consider rebuilding Bratislava and Slovakia's main synagogue? If, as Mr. Vajda says, the tearing down of the synagogue was a crime, can we not right this wrong now that we no longer have a socialist regime to contend with? Surely enough land can be found in the Old Town to have the synagogue restored. If they can rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, we can rebuild the synagogue in Bratislava!
The money would have to come from donations and grants and from the Slovak government, in the name of correcting a past wrong. But for this to happen, the current Jewish population of Bratislava and Slovakia has to raise its voice and express its wishes clearly. Without their support and determination, the restoration of the synagogue will never occur.
This will not be an easy task, and it's certainly not one to be taken on by the meek and the timid. But if anyone feels strongly about this topic, and is willing to discuss the possibilities of restorating this historic and sacred building, I invite them to contact me at my e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Henry M. Siegel,
President, Friends of Slovakia Association. Bratislava