March 2017 – September 2017
Michael Weinstein Gallery
THE LOST SYNAGOGUES OF EUROPE: POSTCARDS FROM THE COLLECTION OF FRANTISEK BANYAI
For František Bányai, a native of Prague, Czech Republic, collecting vintage postcards on Jewish themes is a way to connect with the past. Born in Slovakia to Auschwitz survivors, Bányai was raised in the Communist era with no Jewish upbringing or education. Reflecting on the significance of his collection, Bányai says, “In addition to their authentic beauty, these postcards capture a sense of indelible grief. They reflect a world that was all but destroyed and that disappeared almost without a trace. Yet this world lives on in period photographs and postcards.”
Lost Synagogue featured a portion of Bányai’s collection which dates from the last years of the nineteenth century through the years just before the start of World War II. The majority of these images are houses of worship destroyed by the Nazis or others during the Second World War. They range from humble wooden structures in small towns to grand synagogues in large urban centers. A few, like the opulent Jubilee Synagogue in Prague, still stand and serve vibrant congregations.
Other postcards showed life in the communities that existed around these synagogues: families on their way to worship; men absorbed in prayer; portraits of Jews old and young; ghetto streets crowded with shoppers; greeting cards for the Jewish holidays; and traditional scenes from weddings and Jewish holidays.
Bányai’s collection recalls the vibrant Jewish communities of Europe and document a rich and colorful past. The synagogue images also offered architectural clues to the design of the Museum’s home, the Eldridge Street Synagogue, and to the way of life of the synagogue’s congregants before they made the trip to America.
The guide to the individual synagogue images in the exhibition can be downloaded here.