05 | The Great Synagogue

Address: Spálená 1

Jewish emancipation and the importance of the Jews during the rise of Brno.

A new chapter of the Jewish history of Brno began shortly after the revolutionary year of 1848, when the Jews in the Hapsburg monarchy gained the same civil rights as the majority Christian society. The first Jewish institutions, including the important Provisional Committee of the Kehilla, whose task was to build a new synagogue, started to be established in the early 1850s. Although the municipal authority rejected the possibility of building the synagogue in the city, it did not prevent the construction of the building altogether.

Kresba Velké synagogy. Foto © Archiv města Brna

Drawing of the Great Synagogue. Photo © The Brno City Archives

In a few years, Jewish emancipation in the monarchy made a huge leap forward. The Kehilla purchased a plot of land on the corner of today’s Spálená and Přízova Streets; it then ordered a construction plan from a major engineering agency in Vienna, led by the architects Johann Julius Roman von Ringe and August Schwendenwein von Lauenburg. They designed a monumental building in the historicist neo-Romanesque style. Its character corresponded to the Viennese architecture from the times when the Ringstrasse, the city ring road, which had been designed by these architects, was constructed.

Velká synagoga. Foto © Archiv města Brna

The Great Synagogue. Photo © The Brno City Archives

Velká židovská synagoga na rohu ulic Přízovy a Spálené. Foto © Archiv města Brna

The Great Synagogue. Photo © The Brno City Archives

Velká synagoga. Foto © Židovské muzeum v Praze

The Great Synagogue. Photo © The Jewish Museum

Interiér Velké synagogy. Foto © Židovské muzeum v Praze

Interior of the Great Synagogue. Photo © The Jewish Museum in Prague
 
The construction of the synagogue, executed by Anton Onderka from Brno, started in 1853. Thanks to the generous support of Brno’s Jewish entrepreneurs, it was opened with a ceremonial service in the presence of Chief Rabbi Isak Mannheimer from Vienna two years later, on 17 September 1855. The building, on a regular ground plan with a distinctive arched gable, decorated with Moses’ Ten Commandments on the top, was expanded and rebuilt several times in the 19th century – together with the municipal theatre, it was the first electrically lit public building in Brno.
 
Vrchní vídeňský rabín Isak Mannheimer. Litografie Eduarda Kaisera (1858)
The Chief Rabbi Isak Mannheimer from Vienna. Lithography: Eduard Kaiser (1858)
 
The synagogue, a symbol of Jewish Brno, was burnt down by the Nazis, with the participation of Czech fascists, on the night of 16 March 1939. Members of the SS saw to it that the fire was not put out, and the building burnt to the ground. The ruins had to be removed by the Jews. After the war, Rabbi Richard Feder wrote:
‘The Jews were so confused by this barbaric act, they were not able to express their disgust and revulsion in words. They only kept saying: “God will avenge this.” The Jews loved their synagogues, even if they did not frequent them. After all, they built them from donations. Almost every family had the most beautiful memories of their synagogue.’
Immediately after the war, the city leaders pledged to build a monument to the Brno Jews murdered during the Holocaust on the site of the destroyed synagogue. However, this has not happened, and there is still an abandoned pile of rubble on the site of one of the most interesting buildings of Brno.
 
Synagoga po vypálení roku 1939. Foto © Židovské muzeum v Praze
The synagogue burned to the ground, 1939. Photo © The Jewish Museum in Prague
 
Dnešní stav. Foto © VRN
Today’s state. Foto © VRN