Intense efforts are underway to save and restore a cemetery
that contains the grave of the Chasam Sofer, fearless leader
of Hungarian Jewry a century and a half ago. For decades in
the Slovak capital of Bratislava, the grave of the Chasam
Sofer and other leading Jewish figures resting in the old
Jewish cemetery have been shaken by the pounding of trolley
cars passing directly overhead. Local Jewish leaders feared
that the cemetery could be seriously damaged.
A $2 million project has now been launched that will not only
divert the trolley car tracks from the site but also convert
the Chasam Sofer's final resting place into a permanent
mausoleum. Once complete, the site will no doubt serve as a
magnet to draw thousands of visitors a year to pray at the
grave of one of the greatest and most influential Jewish
leaders of recent times.
The Chasam Sofer was niftar at the age of 76 in 1839.
He was buried in a tomb surrounded by the graves of other
leading rabbis and Jewish community leaders. But his peace
was shattered during World War II when the Nazi-puppet Slovak
state decided to level the entire Jewish cemetery in order to
construct a road.
Local Jewish leaders successfully fought to save the grave,
but it required a lot of good luck, according to Dr. Tomas
Stern, a Slovak who has documented historical Jewish
monuments throughout Central Europe.
"The grave of Chasam Sofer and other important rabbis
happened to be at the bottom of a valley, so the authorities
agreed to build the road over that section of the cemetery,"
Only 23 graves and 31 tombstones were ultimately saved from
the bulldozers and encased in a concrete bunker beneath the
Years of neglect by Czechoslovakia's Communist regime took
its toll on the Chasam Sofer's grave. But help eventually
appeared in the form of New York City Council member Noach
Dear, who with the support of the White House, formed an
international delegation recently to visit Bratislava and
save the Chasam Sofer's tomb.
A deal was reached under which the Slovak government agreed
to reroute the trolley cars at a total cost of $1.1 million.
For its part, the delegation, which included New York
businessman George Karfunkel and descendants of the Chasam
Sofer, vowed to restore the cemetery, a move that could also
cost as much as $1 million.
Bratislava's City Hall had hoped to complete the new section
of trolley track by this summer, but it has put back the
completion date to at least October.
As a result, construction work on the mausoleum itself is now
unlikely to start until the spring of next year, pushing back
the completion date to next summer.
The Slovak Ministry of Culture and the city's Jewish
community have already paid for the tombstones to be cleaned
and preserved to prevent further decay in the humid,
Once the mausoleum is revamped, it is likely to prove a
powerful magnet for Jews from around the world.
Already this month, 3,000 people visited the deteriorating
site on Slovakia's European Day of Jewish Culture, making it
the most visited Jewish monument in the country.