KRAKOW – Poland’s Ministry of Culture will soon decide whether to demolish the historical building of the Jewish community in Warsaw to build a skyscraper in its place. The surprising and unexpected detail in the story is that the request to demolish the building, which stands in the middle of the former Jewish ghetto in Warsaw, came from Jewish leaders.
After World War II, having survived the bombardment by the German army, the white building on 6 Twarda Street in Warsaw, became a symbol of renewed Jewish life in Poland and a meeting place for Holocaust survivors and members of the Polish Jewish community.
At a press conference in 2007, Poland’s Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich and Piotr Kadlcik, president of the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland, announced plans to build a skyscraper 208 meters high containing up to 60 floors near the Nozyk Synagogue, in the center of the former Jewish ghetto. This grandiose plan provoked outrage among Jewish organizations and Holocaust survivors around the world who argued that the project would harm the unique character of the ghetto and put the old synagogue, one of the few buildings in Warsaw that survived the Nazi bombings, in its shadow.
Kadlczyk, at that time, dismissed the arguments claiming that “the success of the project is closely tied to the survival of the Jewish community in Warsaw.”
Now, the Jewish community’s leaders argue that the three-story building is too cramped, full of mold and mildew and that it can no longer fill the needs of a growing Jewish population. Frequently, they say, the community has to hold its events in other places in Warsaw due to lack of space in the old building.
The Ministry of Culture will have to decide soon between the Jewish leaders’ request to demolish the building and the petition of cultural heritage activists who asked to declare the building a historic monument and preserve it.
Andrzej Zozula, vice president of the Jewish community, said the gist of the conflict is over whether the preservation of the historical building is more important than the future Jewish existence in Poland.
“I can’t agree with the opinion that preserving the building is more important than the community’s future” Zozula said.
Schudrich used the example of King Herod, who more than 2,000 years ago built the Second Temple on the ruins of the first one.
“We respect the past, but build for the future. Despite the holiness the First Temple had, a much bigger one was built in its place to meet the needs of a vibrant Jewish community. This represents in a very similar way the case we have now,” said Schudrich.