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Use our multimedia maps, and explore the family pictures, archival material, and personal stories of 21 Jewish Holocaust survivors to get a unique insight into Europe’s rich Jewish heritage, and to discover sites of Jewish life in towns in Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania.
The building at the corner of Universytetska Street and Maria Zankovetska Street hardly looks like the magnificent temple it used to be before World War II. Once the biggest synagogue in the heart of the city, it was set on fire on July 8, 1941 by SS soldiers coming into town at the beginning of the German-Romanian military campaign against the USSR. This barbaric action, and the execution of Rabbi Abraham Mark, was but a prologue to genocide of Jewish population in Chernivtsi during World War II.
The Temple was the main progressive synagogue in town. By constructing the Temple, a local progressive Jewish community responded to Orthodox Jews who had refused to introduce new liturgy in synagogue service. Construction works began in May 1873 after Amalie Zucker had donated a suitable plot of land. The Temple was opened in September 1877, and Lazar Elias Igel became its first Rabbi. until 1892. After all debts had been paid, the building became a property of the Jewish community.
The Temple was built in pseudo-Moorish style and stood out of all synagogues in town thanks to its architecture and its services, which were held in German and included the cantor’s singing and a boys’ choir. Josef Schmidt, who later became a famous tenor, sang in this choir from 1918 until 1924.
Melitta Seiler, born in 1929, remembers in her interview with Centropa how she attended services for the Jewish High Holidays:
We went to the big temple on special occasions, like the high holidays or a wedding, and it was always full, you had to buy seats for this beforehand from the Jewish community: women sat on one side, and men on the other. My parents were always careful to buy seats before any high holiday.
On Jewish New Year’s Eve there were always big preparations, everybody went to the big synagogue, and then we were invited to a party to one aunt or uncle, and there was a lot of food and drinking. Bruno Bittmann, born in 1928 and interviewed by Centropa in Vienna, also visited the Temple regularly:
My father and mother prayed every day. On Saturdays, often took me with him to the Temple, which was a beautiful building. Later, the Temple was burned down by the Germans. (…) During that awful time, I had my Bar Mitzwa at the Temple. There was a short speech, then I had to say my prayer, and the whole thing was over.
In 1941, the fire caused by the German troops destroyed the entire interior of the synagogue. In 1952 local Soviet authorities ordered the building to be demolished. However, the explosion didn’t achieve its aim. For a few more years the building was abandoned. In In 1959 the building was converted into the city´s first widescreen cinema, named “Zhovten” (October),
Since 1992 the cultural institution has the same name as the town. For those who walk across the entrance hall, you will notice, on its left end, a small commemoration plaque in Ukrainian language dedicated to the famous tenor Josef Schmidt, who once sang in In the Temple. This plaque is well hidden behind advertising posters .