The lost synagogue of Vidin

I nearly missed it.

Walking through the riverfront park in Vidin, Bulgaria, the eye is naturally drawn toward the Danube or distant monuments. It would have been so easy to overlook the ruin in the trees just to the south.

I had heard mention of a synagogue here. What I hadn’t realized — could scarcely have conceived — was the sheer extent of its decaying presence.

We wandered around the perimeter fence and, spotting the Star of David, realized what we had stumbled upon. Nestled amid houses and apartment blocks, it appeared to be completely abandoned and forgotten.

And then we saw that the gate had been left ajar. With a gulp and a look over my shoulder, I plunged through the weeds and into the shell of this once grand building.

Built in 1894, it had once been among the largest synagogues in the Balkans, before the Jewish population fled during and after World War II. The communist government began restoring it in 1983, but that project was abandoned with the fall of the Berlin Wall six years later, leaving it roofless and exposed to the elements. Since then, several groups have tried to raise funds to save it.

But on this day we felt very much alone. The stained glass was long gone. Campfires had burned in odd corners of the building, and garbage lay piled at the bottom of perilous-looking concrete stairs.

I tried to imagine how this building might have looked at the beginning of the last century, when Vidin had a Jewish population of 1,780 people. It had been the fifth and surely the grandest synagogue in the town’s recent history  — an expression not simply of that community’s religious faith, but of its misplaced faith in a safe and prosperous future.

Now all that was left of those century-old vows in Vidin was this building.

I didn’t want to leave. Somehow it felt like walking away too quickly might compound the insult, reinforce the sense of abandonment.


I can’t help but worry that unless something is done, someone will be the last person on earth to see this place standing. I hope it won’t be me.

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