Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

20 Ellul 5760 - September 20, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Home and Family
Gravesite of Chasam Sofer to be Preserved
by M. Bennett and Yated Ne'eman Staff

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," he said.

Only 23 graves and 31 tombstones were ultimately saved from the bulldozers and encased in a concrete bunker beneath the road.

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, underground conditions.

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.


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