30 July 2012

Saving art

The port city of Burgas, the ancient Greek town of Pyrgos, where it was perpetrated, on the 18th of July, a bloody terrorist attack aimed at Israeli tourists, was an important and cosmopolitan commercial center a century ago, which brought together Greeks, Bulgarians, Turks, Armenians and Gypsies, and which also had a significant Jewish community.

Witness of the presence of Jews in Burgas is an imposing synagogue in downtown, built in 1909 by Italian architect Ricardo Toscani.

Unlike the fate of other synagogues in Bulgarian territory, which turned into ruins, Burgas was fortunate enough to host, in 1966, an art gallery. This unusual fact, that has been ensuring its proper maintenance until today, was naturally favored by the massive emigration of Bulgarian Jewry to Palestine soon after the end of World War II.

On July 7, when visiting the city during the Balkan summer heat, I hesitated to enter the gallery. I crossed the threshold and went to the cashier, decorated with cards that reproduced works of Christian Orthodox art belonging to the collection, in order to buy the entrance ticket. Dominated by a strange sensation, a kind of stupid nausea, I gave up and decided to leave the building, not before looking at the ground floor lounge, where a grand piano was waiting for a concert, and the winding stairs that gave access to the floor above.

It was as if I had been stricken with shame in front of all those who, in the past, attended the synagogue as a synagogue, and now I would tarnish their memory. However, shouldn't I rejoice over the fact that the building has been preserved? But something prevented me from entering there.

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