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The Artifacts Collection

Artifacts in the Synagogue

Torah Ark Curtain

Torah Ark curtain, Cluj, Romania An oil painting of David Sebestyen, founder of the Jewish Hospital in Cluj, Romania, to whom the curtain was dedicated Detail of the Sebestyen family crest embroidered on the Torah Ark curtain that hung in the synagogue of the Jewish Hospital, Cluj, Romania David & Caroline Sebestyen and their children Jolan, Berta, Moritz, Lojos, Josef and Rezsö, Cluj, Romania, before 1930 David & Caroline Sebestyen with their children and grandchildren, Cluj, Romania, before 1930

On the curtain is a dedication:
“In Memory of the
Founder of the Hospital
Man of Many Talents
Benefactor of the Poor
David Tzvi von Sebastyen z”l
Dedicated by his Wife Hanna Chai Sara Leah and her Family
5691 (1931)”

The curtain displayed in the Yad Vashem Synagogue came to the Artifacts Collection in Yad Vashem in 1999, in the context of a campaign to preserve Judaica donated by the Federation of Jewish Communities in Romania and the community of Cluj. The donation was made possible thanks to a special decision by the Government of Romania.

In October 2010, after the Torah Ark curtain had been displayed for five years, we learned of the history of David Tzvi Sebastyen, the man to whom the curtain was dedicated. This information came from his great-granddaughter Vera Soditt, today a resident of Cologne, Germany.

The builder David Sebastyen was born in 1855 in Szekelyhid, Transylvania. His boundless energy enabled him to become one of the most successful builders in Cluj (Kolosvar/Klausenburg). By the beginning of the twentieth century David was responsible for the building of a number of public buildings in Cluj, among them the University Hospital, the University Library and two large residential buildings. An official family crest was bestowed on him for his many public works and he was thenceforth known as  "Szekelyhidasi Sebestyen David". He died in 1930, a year before the realization of yet another of his philanthropic projects, the opening of the Jewish Hospital in Cluj. His widow, Caroline had a Torah Ark curtain made in his memory for the hospital’s synagogue. This is the curtain now hanging in the Yad Vashem Synagogue.

David and Caroline had six children and eleven grandchildren, but only three children and two grandchildren survived the Holocaust. One of the surviving grandchildren is Victor Sebastyen, the son of Josef Sebastyen and father of Vera Soditt, who has shared the documentation regarding her great-grandfather, including a surviving film of the official opening of the Jewish Hospital in 1931, in which the Torah Ark curtain appears.

David Sebastyen’s grandson, Victor, was born in Cluj in 1925 and grew up in one of the residential buildings built by his grandfather. In 1943, Victor was sent to forced labor in Hungary. In 1944 he was deported to Mauthausen concentration camp where he was liberated in May 1945. Two of Viktor’s brothers died in concentration camps, apparently in Buchenwald. Today Victor, his wife, two children and five grandchildren live in Cologne, Germany. The family home Palatu Sebstyen’, built by David Sebastyen at the beginning of the twentieth century, was recently returned to their ownership.

Yad Vashem Artifacts Collection
Donated by the Federation of Jewish Communities in Romania, Bucharest & the Jewish Community of Cluj, Romania
Family documentation, courtesy of Viktor Sebastyen & family, Köln, Germany
Film footage, courtesy of the National Film Archive - Romanian Cinematheque, Bucharest, Romania

Additional artifacts in the synagogue