'Polish Jewish sites falling into ruin'

Major Jewish sites in Po

Przysucha synagogue 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Przysucha synagogue 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Hundreds of important Jewish historical and religious sites across Poland are in danger of deterioration and possible collapse, a Polish Jewish organization warned on Thursday. "There are about 1,200 Jewish cemeteries and nearly 200 synagogues in Poland that survived the war," said Monika Krawczyk, president of the Warsaw-based Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland, which oversees the sites on behalf of the Jewish community. "But now, many are in a terrible state of disrepair and are literally falling apart," she told The Jerusalem Post in an interview during a visit to Jerusalem, adding that, "if we don't act now to save these sites, in another 10 or 20 years there will be nothing left to see." The Foundation, which was established in 2002 by the the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland and the World Jewish Restitution Organization, aims to reclaim and manage communal properties that have been returned to the Jewish community under a state law passed in 1997. With a vast number of sites under its purview, and their dispersal over a large geographical area, the Foundation faces a pressing need to raise funds to repair and refurbish cemeteries, synagogues and other structures of inestimable Jewish historical and cultural value. As an example, Krawczyk cited the grand synagogue in the central Polish town of Przysucha, which is known to Jews by its Yiddish name of Pshiskhe. Located near Radom, the township's large limestone synagogue was built between 1774 and 1777, and served as the prayer hall of some of the great Hassidic masters, such as the Yid Hakadosh, Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak ben Asher, as well as his disciple, Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Pshiskhe, during the heyday of Polish Hassidism. But after the local Jewish community was wiped out by the Germans during the Holocaust, Poland's Communist government turned the synagogue into a storage building for agricultural fertilizers. It was returned to Jewish control in 2007, but remains in a decrepit state, Krawczyk said, with the roof on the verge of collapse and the interior walls in an advanced state of deterioration. Krawczyk said that the Przysucha synagogue is just one of the five most prominent Jewish sites in Poland that is most in danger of falling apart. The others include a 17th century synagogue complex with an unusual underground tunnel in Krasnik, known as Krushnik in Yiddish, which was said to have been used during the Chmielnitzki massacres of 1648, as well as centuries-old synagogues in the cities of Cieszanow, Radzanov and Ziembice. Krawczyk expressed genuine dismay at the relative lack of interest shown by world Jewry in preserving the fate of Poland's Jewish heritage. "More and more," she added, "I hear Poles asking me why more is not being done to fix up these sites and prevent their ruin. They tell me, 'if the Jews are not concerned about their own history, they why should we be?'" She called on Jews worldwide, especially those with a family or historical connection to Poland, to get involved by contacting the foundation and joining in its efforts. "I do not know if people simply are not aware of what is happening to the places where their ancestors lived, prayed and were buried," she said, "or if they just don't care, but we need their help. We need to save this priceless part of our past for future generations of Jews."