Wrocław's White Stork Synagogue Restoration Continues, Neo-Classical Façade (1829) by Carl Ferdinand Langhans now Complete
by Samuel D. Gruber
ISJM, July 3, 2008
The on-gain, off-again restoration of the White Stork Synagogue in Wrocław, Poland (formerly Breslau, Germany) is nearing completion. The historic is the center of the local Jewish community. It was returned to the Jewish community in the 1990s, and was on the first Jewish heritage projects in Poland to receive substantial funding from Germany. But after initial building stabilization work and interior restoration, the project slowed. Now, ISJM member Ruth Ellen Gruber reports that work is continuing at a faster pace - thanks in part to efforts of the Norwegian Jewish singer Bente Kahan and the Bente Kahan Foundation, established in 2006. Restoration of the impressive synagogue facade and the Aron ha-Kodesh (ark) are almost complete.
The three-story neoclassical building was designed by Carl Ferdinand Langhans (1781-1869), and opened in 1829. Langhans was one of the foremost 19th century architects in Silesia, and one of Germany's foremost theater designers. In Wroclaw he also designed the city's Actors' Guild Theater and Opera House. The painter Raphael Biow (1771-1836) and his son Hermann (1804-1850) were responsible for the interior decoration (most of which is now lost). The synagogue has a main prayer hall surrounded on three sides by galleries for women. There are two levels of galleries to the north and south and a single gallery on the east (ark) wall. The wood frame of the Aron ha-kodesh and the damaged tablets of the Ten Commandments are all that remain of the original religious features.
The synagogue remained in use until 1974 when the authorities expropriated it from the community and gave it to the University of Wrocław for use as a library. In 1989, the University then transferred the building to the Musical Academy, from which a private firm purchased it in 1995. It was returned to the Jewish community and has undergone intermittent restoration for the past decade.
In addition to raising funds and coordinating restoration efforts, the Foundation sponsors weekly concerts in the synagogue during the summer. Bente Kahan told Ruth Gruber that enough funds have been raised to complete the restoration by 2010. According to Gruber "she's managed to do this by making her foundation a ‘neutral, non-profit organization’ that, because of its neutrality, can navigate the sometimes treacherous waters between the municipality and the Jewish community."
After restoration, the synagogue will include a Jewish Museum devoted to the history of the Jews of Wroclaw According to its website, the "Wroclaw Center for Jewish Culture and Education," situated in the Synagogue and administrated by FBK, "organizes cultural and educational events year around, serving as a house for learning and culture, a place for tolerance and understanding."
Photo galleries of the synagogue and recent restoration works
Ruth Ellen Gruber's Jewish Heritage Travel blog