The origin of this famous cemetery dates back to the 17th century, when Jews were allowed to settle below Bratislava’s castle on the estate of the Pálffy counts. The cemetery served as the burial place of the Bratislava Jewish community until 1847. Since then, the Jewish community has used the Orthodox and Neolog cemetery located on Zizkova Street nearby. The Old Cemetery was well maintained until 1942-1943, when it was demolished during construction of a tunnel. Most of the graves were exhumed and reburied at the Orthodox cemetery in a communal grave behind the beit tahara. Only the most precious section, where famous Bratislava rabbis were buried – 23 graves surrounding the Chatam Sofer’s tomb – was preserved on the original site.
It was enclosed by a concrete shell and covered with a concrete roof. The site became an underground compound, which some people in Bratislava began calling the Chatam Sofer Mausoleum. Even throughout the Communist period it was visited by Orthodox pilgrims and other Jews. For Bratislava residents, the site evoked a mysterious Jewish presence in a period when Jewish heritage was not valued by the authorities and two Bratislava synagogues and the entire old Jewish neighborhood were razed. In 1982, the tramline was built and a tram stop was established over the compound.
In 2000-2002, after decades of neglect, the whole site was redeveloped and the gravestones were restored. The redevelopment project was initiated by the New York-based International Committee for the Preservation of Gravesites of Gaonai Pressburg, an organization headed by Mr. Romi Cohn that included prominent Orthodox authorities. The project would not have been possible without the cooperation and support of the Bratislava Municipality and Mayor Jozef Moravcik. The project was coordinated by Dr. Peter Salner, the president of the Bratislava Jewish Community, which owns the site, and the building works were supervised by Mr. Gershon Turm from Israel.
Carrying out the project entailed great sensitivity, as special rules apply to Jewish cemeteries. The former cemetery compound was delineated (and later fenced off) after the tram tracks were relocated by the municipality. Architect Martin Kvasnica designed a striking new complex that adheres to the strict requirements of the Halakhah (Jewish law) as well as to the highest standards of contemporary architecture.
A major challenge was providing an access for the Kohanim (descendants of Temple priests), who are prohibited from visiting a cemetery by Jewish law. To resolve this, visitors access the site via a raised platform, which is elevated above the cemetery grounds. After passing through an evocative black entry corridor structure, they enter the visitors’ hall, followed by a prayer hall for Kohanim. Only then can they descend into the main cemetery space, where the graves of the Chatam Sofer and the other prominent rabbis are located. Glass plates symbolizing matzevot (gravestones) lost in the destruction of the cemetery are visible in the interior and also mark the memorial compound from the outside. They remind us that the site is a Jewish cemetery, even though it disappeared in the 20th century, when so much of Jewish civilization was destroyed. The Chatam Sofer Memorial forms part of the Slovak Jewish Heritage Route.
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Kozia 18, 814 47 Bratislava
GPS: 48°8'30.50"N, 17°5'29.50"E
Nábrežie arm. gen. Ludvíka Svobodu, Bratislava