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Monday, 17 June 2013

Synagogues of Kraków - June 2013

The synagogues of Kraków are an outstanding collection of monuments of Jewish sacred architecture unmatched anywhere in Poland. The seven main synagogues of the Jewish District of Kazimierz constitute the largest such complex in Europe next to Prague. It is a unique on the European scale religious complex prescribed on the list of UNSECO world heritage sites along with the entire city district in 1978, as the first ever.

Kraków was an influential centre of Jewish spiritual life before the outbreak of World War II with all its manifestations of religious observance from Orthodox, to Chasidic and Reform flourishing side by side. There were at least ninety synagogues in Kraków active before the Nazi German invasion of Poland, serving its burgeoning Jewish community of 60,000–80,000 (out of the city's total population of 237,000), established since the early 12th century. Most synagogues of Kraków were ruined during World War II by the Nazis who despoiled them of all ceremonial objects, and used them as storehouses for ammunition, firefighting equipment, and as general storage facilities. The post- Holocaust Jewish population of the city had dwindled to about 5,900 before the end of 1940s, and by 1978, the number was further reduced in size to a mere 600 by some estimates. In recent time, thanks to the efforts of the local Jewish and Polish organizations including foreign financial aid from Akiva Kahane, many synagogues underwent major restorations, while others continue to serve as apartments.

Having arrived in Kraków it was a case of getting out from the hotel as fast as possible to soak up the atmosphere of such a wonderful city.  Thankfully a friend who had gone out to Poland with me was like-minded and had the same appreciation levels for the architectural aspects of what was on offer.  I cannot really pin down hat it is about certain architecture that i find so deeply fascinating.  Certainly from the historical aspect, it's a quick win for me.  On a deeper level, the older and more character a building has, the better.  Exposed brick, cracked plaster, dilapidation all combine to trigger a real interest in inspecting a building, it's lines and interior and documenting what triggered the initial interest.
The day didn't initially bode well. Entering the city on a rainy day was fine, coming from England it was something i was used to.  The day got progressively worse though, with deep rolling bursts of thunder, torrential rain in parts and the occasional flash of lightening.  So far so good then for a walk around the old parts of the city.  Catching a taxi into the Old Jewish Quarter to Plac Nowy the two of us attempted to get our bearings and firstly found ourselves in an area that seemed very familiar.  Where possible i entered to Synagogues, but as in any place of worship, there is a fine balance between interest and respect.


The Tempel Synagogue

The Tempel Synagogue is a Reform Jewish synagogue in Kraków, Poland, in the Kazimierz district. The Moorish Revival building was designed by Ignacy Hercok, and built in 1860–1862 along Miodowa Street. The temple, with its tall central section flanked by lower wings, is designed on the pattern of the  Leopoldstadter Tempel, in Vienna, Austria. At the time the synagogue was built, Kraków was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The richly finished interior is adorned with dense patterns painted in many colors and copious amounts of gold leaf, but the patterns, with the exception of the exquisite Moorish design on the ceiling, are not stylistically Moorish. The arch over the Aron Kodesh with its pattern of alternating tall and short houses is more in the style of Polish folk art than anything Islamic. The Aron Kodesh is covered by a gold-leaf dome that evokes the dome over the Sigismund Chapel in the nearby Wawel Cathedral.

The synagogue was ruined during the World War II by the Nazis, who used the building as ammunition storage area. After the war, it was used again for prayers. In 1947, a mikuvah was built in the northern part of the synagogue. Regular prayers were held until 1985. A large inflow of financial contributions from private donors around the world allowed the synagogue to undergo a vast renovation from 1995 until 2000. It is still active today, although formal prayers are held only a few times a year.

The Izaak Synagogue

The Izaak Synagogue or Isaac Synagogue, formally known as the Isaak Jakubowicz Synagogue, is a Prayerhouse built in 1644 in the historic Kazimierz District of Kraków. The synagogue is named for its donor, Izaak Jakubowicz (d. 1673), also called Isaac the Rich, a banker to King Wladyslaw IV. The synagogue was designed by Francesco Olivierri, an Italian working in Poland in that era. Jakubowicz is buried in the Remuh Cemetary. Variants of the name include Ayzik, Izaak, and Isaac. Izaak is the standard Polish spelling, while Jakubowicz is Polish for a "Son of Jacob."

On 5 December 1939, the Gestapo came to the Krakow Judenrat building and ordered, Maximilian Redlich, the Jewish official on duty that day to burn the scrolls of the Torah. When Redlich refused he was shot dead.

Nazis destroyed the interior and furnishings, including the bimah and Aron Kodesh. After the war, the building was used by a sculpture and conservation atelier and then by a theatre company as workshop space and for the storage of props.until recently it was an exhibition space. A fire in 1981 damaged the interior. A renovation was begun in 1983 and in 1989, with the fall of communism in Poland, the building was returned to the Jewish community. It is now a practising Orthodox Synagogue once again.

At the time of this visit i did not feel comfortable about visiting the Synagogue.  It is a place of worship and as a result of this, out of respect to anyone inside paying their respects - i simply left.

High Synagogue

High Synagogue is an inactive Orthodox Jewish synagogue in the Kazimierz District of Kraków. It was called the High (or Tall) Synagogue for many centuries for it was the tallest synagogue in the city. It was built in 1556-1563. It appears to be in a Renaissance manner with certain modifications common north of the alps (most notably the tracery, which resembles that of St-Pierre in Caen). It was the third synagogue to be erected in Kazimierz. Originally, the prayer rooms were located on the second floor above ground floor shops. The interior walls of the sanctuary feature paintings of scenes in Jerusalem including the "Tomb of the Israelite Kings," "Western Wall" and a handsome pair of lions in the women's gallery.

During the occupation of Poland in World War II, Nazis stripped the interior of all equipment. The ceiling and roof were destroyed. At present only the stone niche for the Aron Kodesh and the wall-paintings uncovered early in the 21st century by art conservation remain. Gabled-windowed top floor, synagogue ceiling and roof were renovated in 2008 as part of the ongoing repairs.

The High serves as a Landmark Conservation building. Since 2005 it has been open to visitors. Photographic and other exhibitions about customs and traditions of the Jewish community of the inter war period are staged indoors.

Old Synagogue

Old Synagogue is an Orthodox Jewish synagogue in the Kazimierz district of Kraków, is the oldest synagogue building still standing in Poland, and one of the most precious landmarks of Jewish architecture in Europe. Until the German Invasion of Poland in 1939, it was one of the most important synagogues in the city as well as the main religious, social, and organizational centre of the Kraków Jewish community. In 1794 General Tadeusz Koscuiszko spoke from the synagogue to gain the Jewish support in the struggle for Polish independence. A plaque in the entrance hall commemorates this event:

"The Jews proved to the world that whenever humanity can gain, they would not spare themselves." –General Tadeusz Kosciuszko.

The Synagogue was built in 1407 or 1492; the date of building varies with several sources. The original building was rebuilt in 1570 under the watchful eye of an Italian architect Mateo Gucci. The rebuilding included the attic wall with loopholes, windows placed far above ground level, and thick, masonry walls with heavy buttressing to withstand siege, all features borrowed from military architecture. The Old synagogue is a rare, surviving example of a Polish Fortress Synagogue.
The synagogue was completely devastated and ransacked by the Germans during World War II. Its artwork and Jewish relics, looted. During the occupation, the synagogue was used as a magazine. In 1943, 30 Polish hostages were executed at its wall.  The Old Synagogue was renovated from 1956 to 1959 and currently operates as a museum. It is a Division of the Historical Museum of Kraków with particular focus on Krakow's Jews. The exhibits are divided into themes dealing with birth, prayer rituals, diet, divorce and death. "The beautiful women's prayer room, which dates from the 17th century, is often used to hold temporary exhibitions."

Into Ul Szeroka

Remu'h Synagogue

The Remu Synagogue was built in Kazimierz,then a suburban village outside Kraków, located on the right bank of the Vistula River, immediately to the south of the Royal Castle on the Wawel Hill. Kazimierz had a Jewish community since the 14th century, transferred from the budding old Town by King Jan I Olbracht following a fire in 1495. It soon became the main Jewish neighbourhood in the region and one of the largest Jewish communities in Poland. Originally called the "New Synagogue" to distinguish it from the old Synagogue, (Stara Boznica in Polish), the Remuh Synagogue was built in 1553 at the edge of a newly established Jewish cemetery (today known as the "Old Cemetery") on land owned by Israel ben Josef. This date is stated clearly on the foundation tablet. Nevertheless, the royal permission by King Sigismund II Augustus of Poland was obtained in November 1556, after long opposition from the Church. As it is hard to believe that the construction actually began without the royal permission, the inscription should therefore be understood as possibly referring to the date when the decision to build a second synagogue in Kazimierz was taken by its founder. The first building of the synagogue, probably a wooden structure, was destroyed in a fire in April 1557, but following a new permission granted by King Sigismund II Augustus,  a second building of masonry was erected in place in 1557 after the plans of Stanisław Baranek, a Kraków architect. The original late Renaissance  style edifice underwent a number of changes during the 17th and the 18th centuries. The current building traces its design to the restoration work of 1829, to which some technical improvements were introduced during the restoration of 1933 conducted under the supervision of the architect Herman Gutman. During the Holocaust, the synagogue was sequestered by the German Trust Office (Treuhandstelle) and served as a storehouse of firefighting equipment, having been despoiled of its valuable ceremonial objects and historic furbishing, including the bimah. However, the building itself was not destroyed. In 1957, thanks to the efforts of the local Jewish community and of Akiva Kahane, the Joint Distribution Committee representative in Poland, the Remuh Synagogue underwent a major restoration that re-established much of the pre-war appearance of the interior.

The cemetery was founded at around the same time as the synagogue and is one of the oldest in Poland. It was used for burials up until 1800 and although some burials took place after this time the cemetery gradually fell into disrepair.

The cemetery was all but destroyed during the Second World War and the site used as a rubbish dump. Remarkably, one of the few gravestones to survive was that of Rabbi Moses (Remuh). Some Jews take this as a sign of his holiness and power.

In 1959 the cemetery was renovated and reconstructed in the form that can be seen today. Many of the tombstones are no longer in their original place having been dug out of the ground during the renovation of the cemetery. Small fragments from tombstones that were too small to be used again were used to create what is now known as Kraków's Wailing Wall.

In the small Square of Ul Szeroka is a place of worship marking the tragic events on the Jewish Community during World War II

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