Event 3: Subotica, Serbia

Artists and architects

Umetnici i arhitekte

The City Hall

Renowned Jewish architects Dezső Jakab and Marcell Komor also designed the City Hall, built between 1908 and 1912 and aptly situated in Freedom Square.

Sonja tells us “The exterior and interior as well as the furnishings of the building are in outstanding harmony, reflecting the characteristic style of the two architects in all details.”

Once again we see the decorative features of Art Nouveau combined with motifs from Hungarian folklore. The Council Hall and its splendid stained glass windows are at the heart of the building.

Though the decorations are more lavish in the Council Hall and central rooms, the public areas are also amazing: “I wouldn’t mind coming out to pay my taxes in this building.”

This building is the city’s landmark and symbol, the much-preferred venue of all important events, including cultural, tourist, educational, political and other programmes. It’s also part of the ‘Art Nouveau European Route.’

We say thank you and goodbye to Sonja. Later, we are dismayed – and yet not surprised – to find out that architect Marcell Komor was another victim of the Holocaust, deported and killed aged 76.

The Raichle Palace

Filip and Silvija take us to the Raichle Palace, now the home of the Modern Art Gallery. Architect Raichle Ferenc chose one of the most beautiful sites in Subotica for his future home and office, built in the Hungarian secession style in 1904. It dominates the street with its bold colours and shapes.

Municipal Museum

We visit the museum across the road from the synagogue. It is an intriguing museum housing a mixture of archaeological, ethnographic, historical, art and natural collections.

However, what is most interesting for us, is its connection with the family who lived there before and during World War ll.

Between the world wars, the building was the home of Lajos Fenyves, who was Jewish and one of the most important journalists of that period in Subotica, and his wife Klara Gereb, a prominent painter and graphic artist. They had two children. The building also housed the printing plant for Fenyves’ publishing house.

In 1941, Hungarians occupied the Yugoslavian city and Lajos’ business was confiscated. The family, including a grandmother, was forced to live in a small part of their home whilst Hungarian officers occupied the remainder of the building. In 1944, the Germans arrived and the whole family was sent to the ghetto before being deported to Auschwitz.

Image from Storytelling Nights

On the day they were forced to leave the house, neighbours who had once been friends and colleagues, were lined up on the staircase, waiting to loot their apartment. The family were spat at and verbally abused as they came down the stairs. Not everyone treated them badly. Their former cook ran into the apartment, picked up as many prints and paintings as she could of Klara’s, put them in a portfolio and kept them, returning them to the children after the war.

Steven Fenves and his sister Estera escaped post-war communist dominated Yugoslavia and Steven has lived most of his life in America.

The full story of the family’s experience is moving and inspiring.

(Testimony of Steven Fenves as part of the First Person Programme initiated by the United States Holocaust Museum)