The Memorial of Chatam Sófer
The Memorial of Chatam Sófer is part of the Tentative list of Slovakia in order to qualify for inclusion in the World Heritage List.
The Memorial of Chatam Sófer is a former Jewish cemetery in Bratislava, and now the burial place and memorial of Moses Sofer a prominent orthodox rabbi from the 19th century. During WWII the rabbinical graves such as his were saved. A modern memorial was added in 2002.
Map of The Memorial of Chatam SóferLoad map
The coordinates shown for all tentative sites were produced as a community effort. They are not official and may change on inscription.
I agree with the previous review that this is the most promising site from the Slovak tentative list, and I fully support the inscription. It would be a kind of satisfaction for the Jewish community of Slovakia, which suffered a lot during WWII. The authorities of Slovakia acted against them very actively and fully independently from the German Nazis.
I visited the monument during my day trip to Bratislava in February 2020. Just after my arrival from Prague by train, I simply called the number I found on the web pages and arranged the appointment. It should be OK to call the guide around 30 minutes prior the visit. The monument is opened every day except Saturday from 11am to 5pm. One can walked there from the city center or take a bus and get off at the stop Chatam Sofer just in front of the monument. When traveling by tram (Nos. 4 or 9), be aware that only trams in direction to the city center stops directly by the monument, but the former tram stop from the city center was canceled during the last reconstruction works and one needs to walk a bit from the next stop. The entrance fee was 6 EUR, and the guide told me the history of the place and explained its importance to the orthodox Jewish community (described already by Martina Ruckova). It took around one hour, and I could enter even to the sacred place, it means what is remaining from the original cemetery. From several thousands graves only around 20 gravestones survived including that of Chatam Sofer, the famous rabbi who came to Bratislava from Frankfurt.
It is however important to stress that this is NOT a museum. Jewish community of Bratislava is owner of the place, and according to the 20 years old memorandum, the community has guaranteed to the municipality that they allow entering even to non-Jewish visitors. As already explained in the previous review, the place was covered by concrete blocks in 40s to hide it from the outside world. During the communism, the stop for trams coming from the tunnel was built directly above the monument. Despite this situation, the tram stop become the pilgrim place for visitors from all over the world…
I liked the current presentation of the place very much.
PHOTO: you can see the artificial green hill with glass plates symbolizing the former gravestones. They penetrate to the underground and continue on the ceiling above the monument. Behind the artificial hill, one can see the gate to the tunnel for trams going to the city center. On the left, there is a bridge that allows Cohens (sons of the priests) to enter the place and avoid the ground of the cemetery as it is forbidden for them to touch it. Behind the bridge on its left side, there are the concrete blocks that once covered the “mausoleum”. Than you enter the black rectangular concrete block without a ceiling, so it is something like the corridor leading to the gate to the inner space. After entering, there is a room with a glass wall, through which the cemetery can be seen and this is the only space where Cohens can enter. Behind this room, there is very small sanctuary from which one can descend by staircase to the graves. It is worth-noticing that the level of former concrete closure built in 40s was very low, around 1 meter above the original cemetery level, thus, the tall gravestones had to be detached and laid on the ground (now reconstructed to original appearance with several exceptions). In the “mausoleum”, one can also see simple doors – the entrance from the former tram stop, the only entrance to the space for almost 60 years in 20th century.
I can see a clear universal value of the Monument of Chatam Sofer that would deserve the WHS status. It is justified by (i) architectonical value of the current presentation, (ii) strong story, (iii) exemplary kind of complex interaction between majority and minority, (iii) sacred character of the place that attracts pilgrims from all over the world, and (iv) monument of once important community that physically disappeared but its testimony is still alive in traditions and books.
If there is a tentative site I would recommend Slovakia pushing for nomination, it would be the Chatam Sofer memorial, which for me combines several reasons of outstanding value: not only is it an important pilgrimage place for many Jews as it is a place where Moshe Sofer is burried - he was a very important Orthodox Rabbi and a founder of Bratislava's yeshiva that was moved to Jerusalem after WWII.
The Memorial is also a testament to preservation of an Old Jewish Cemetery despite efforts to destroy it completely. The area around the Bratislava Castle historically was a place where Jews could settle. However, in 1940s and afterwards new town planning projects were drawn - one constructed the bridge across river Danube (the one with the flying saucer) which caused a large part of the Old Jewish town to be demolished to make space for the access road to the bridge. Another "great" idea was to remove the Jewish cemetery to make space for a tunnel. The local community was somehow able to convince the authorities to at lease preserve a section of 23 most important tombs (including one of Chatam Sofer) - it was enclosed in concrete, below the surface of the new road. It was accessible, with a torchlight and the ceiling was very low. It is a mystery how this was done; there are many explanations including superstition or bribes.
In 2002 the site was opened and restored, with the original graves still remaining underground and the top of the memorial was converted to a glass replicas of Jewish gravestones, with their bottoms actually reaching down to the room where the original tombs are - through the ceiling. It was a work of the architect Martin Kvasnica.
The surrounding area is very much urban, but the memorial is visible from the road. The trams stop nearby and the stop is actually called Chatam Sofer. Google their website and book your tour in advance. We visited on a whim when walking around: there was a group of Orthodox Jewish pilgrims, so we were only able to see the graves from the viewing platform behind the glass as to not disturb them while they prayed, but as they did, the local Jewish caretaker actually told us the extensive history of the site, shown us many historic pictures and explained everything. He was very nice and extremely informative. I can't remember if there is an entrance fee, I think we paid some symbolic amount. As I said before, I really hope this place out of all our tentative nominations would get inscribed as I see historical and cultural importance in it, as well as efforts to preserve an important part of Slovak Jewish heritage.
2002 Added to Tentative List
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