The Collection Box: The only remaining Item of Laa’s Synagogue


Many years have passed since I first stepped into the former synagogue of Laa an der Thaya, in my hometown of northern Austria. In fall of 1992 I contacted the owners of the house, an elderly couple, and asked them for permission to enter, even though it was never locked back then. They did not only allow me to walk the building, but to keep anything of interest that I would find.

The house was in a miserable condition back then. Wide cracks gaped in the walls like wounds. Walls had been added to the rooms in the first floor after WW2 in order to transform the synagogue into an apartment. But the paint had partly crumbled away so that the most likely original color of the walls appeared underneath: red with a black decorative strip on the sides and a blue ceiling with decorations. From the long wooden balcony of the courtyard one could look down at the small overgrown garden.

When my sister and I went up the stairs to the attic we saw that the many owners of the house did not leave anything behind. It seemed to be totally empty – just as the rest of the house had been. But a lucky coincidence made my sister look at the bricks that seemed to be put loosely into the space between roof and wall – most likely to keep birds out. One of the bricks turned out to be a gem from old times, which had slept there like the Golem, but now it was brought to light: a collection box with a broken lock. Only after bringing it home and cleaning it the letters and the ochre color coating of paint became visible.

Collection box open; back of the box with a bracket to fix it on the wall or to a piece of furniture

“Mattan Bester”: A Gift in Silence

This inscription once reminded the visitors of the synagogue to be charitable. It is a Mitzvah, a duty, to support needy people. Those who once broke the lock of the collecting box and stole the donations could not read the inscription, nor did they stick to the Golden Rule, as it is known in all religions.

As far as I know the collection box is the only piece of the interior from the synagogue of Laa an der Thaya that remains.

Side view of the former synagogue (picture taken 2016)