Progress (Slow but Steady) for Zhovkva Synagogue Restoration
By Samuel D. Gruber
ISJM, November 13, 2008
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Click here for the article with more photos at Sam's blog
On my recent visit to Ukraine I had the opportunity to stop briefly en route to Lviv to visit the great synagogue of Zhovkva, a site that I have returned to several times since I first urged the restoration of the building*. Work has been continuing on the historic "fortress" synagogue by the Zhovkva State Historical-Architectural Reserve and the Office for the Protection of Historical Monuments of Zhovkva, under the direction of Mr. Mychaijo Kubai. The empty and severely damaged building was listed by the World Monuments Fund on its list of 100 most endangered sites for 2000, leading to a start-up grant from WMF, and subsequent contributions for consolidation and restoration work from the Ukrainian State agencies. In 2006 (?), a partnership was established with four engineering offices in Bavaria (Germany) which are underwriting all planning costs for the project through the "Bavaria Technology Consult of the Bavarian Chamber of Civil Engineers." Since 2007, development in the town comes under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Regional Development, and this has brought in new money and purpose to the synagogue and other projects.
Evening was approaching as my colleagues Sergey Kravtsov (Center for Jewish Art, Jerusalem) and Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett (Museum of the History for the Jews in Poland) and I stopped in Zhovkva unannounced, but we could see work taking place removing old plaster and mortar from an exterior wall. I later learned from Ruth Ellen Gruber (see Ruth's account) and Rudolf Klein, who visited the site a few days later, that the plan calls for two walls to be treated this year, and two next year). While to the casual visitor it may appear that little has been done to date, and that the synagogue is still a ruin, there has, in fact, been substantial stabilization of the building's foundations and walls and repair of the roof and some other aspects pf the water handling system. Expensive repairs are still needed before full restoration and any reuse begins – as much as is possible given the state of the building – but the structural integrity of the building is now secure. Future work will be expensive (the total cost of the project will be at least $US 2 million), and unless there is a single large infusion of funds it will be long. Serious discussion about what the interior should look like and purpose it will serve is still needed. The purported purpose is to establish a Central Museum of Jewish Culture of Galicia in the synagogue to consolidate dispersed holdings, but many competing museum claims need to be resolved before such a plan can be put into effect.
Founded as a Renaissance town private town before 1600, Zhovkva (Polish: Żółkiew) is an important component of Ukrainian, Polish, and Jewish culture and history. The Jewish community began with the town's founding. The Jewish center was established in the northern part, where the synagogue (1687) and other Jewish public buildings were eventually built. Zhovkva preserved its Renaissance appearance until the Second World War, during which the town suffered serious damage. At that time the town's Jewish population of approximately 4,000 was mostly murdered in a series of local executions, or deported to their deaths at Belzec and elsewhere. A sign tells the history of the synagogue in multiple languages, but as historian Omer Bartov points out in his recent book Erased: Vanishing Traces of Jewish Galicia in Present Day Ukraine (Princeton, 2007) there is no history, monument or other commemorative or educational indication of the history or fate of Zhovkva's Jews.
In 1941, the synagogue was burned and then blown up by Zhovkva's German occupiers (perhaps aided by members of the local populace). The walls survived, but main hall columns, vaulting, and the annexes were ruined and/or completely destroyed. In 1955-1956, the synagogue was partially rebuilt and the entrance door and windows were recreated. The southern annex, however, and the vault of the second floor of the western annex were not restored. In 1963 the building was listed on the National Register of Architectural Monuments and Town Planning Ukraine, Protected Number 389. The synagogue facade was partially repaired in 1992-1993, and in 1994 the government listed central Zhovkva, in which the synagogue is located, as a State Historical-Architectural Reserve. Forty sites in the town are listed on the State Register of Architectural Monuments and Town Planning.
All older repairs were made using poor materials, and when I first visited the building in 2000 the roofs and other elements – old and new – were obviously rapidly deteriorating. Masonry walls and vaults and timbers set within the load-bearing walls were overly damp, causing new problems – clearly visible - due to micro-organisms, frost and a general weakening of structural elements. Accumulated debris around the synagogue allowed the accumulation of water, increasing the dampness in the structure. Brick-work at the bottom of the south wall and inside of the building was deeply corroded, or entirely lost.
In the past five years work has moved forward on phases I and II of the project. These included a full building examination and preparation of a preservation plan with preliminary designs for the introduction of mechanical systems (installation of which must wait until after Phase III when future use of the site and user needs are fully determined), include substitution of the roof structure and covering; lowering of the exterior ground level to allow proper drainage; the drying of the load-bearing walls; the restoration of brick-work in the southern wall. Work is now proceeding to remove old plaster from exterior walls and check all masonry and mortar, and to replace external windows and doors. Only when all this work on the shell of the building – all that remains – will work on the interior begin.
This future (and to my knowledge still unfunded) work will include the continued study of historical, architectural and natural aspects of the synagogue and its site; the preparation of project-design documentation for the interior restoration and adaptation for museum purposes; restoration of the vault above the second floor of the western annex and making a roof above it; restoration of the wall and roof structures of the lost southern annex; installation of mechanical systems (i.e., electric, heat, water, sewage; communication and security); restoration of the synagogue interiors; restoration of the attic and the external plaster painting of the facades; clearing the obstructions and restoring the basements below the vestibule-lobby; and establishment of museum and/or other functions.
It remains to be seen what will happen in Zhovkva. Certainly, the town has taken more of an interest in its Jewish past than most towns and cities in Western Ukraine. But there remains a long way to go. Just as there is no memorial to the town's murdered Jews, there is also obvious disrespect - or at least ignorant neglect - of Jewish history as evidenced by the continued use of the Jewish cemetery as a marketplace. As I explained to Mr. Kubai and others on my first visit to Zhovkva many years ago, "it is good to restore the synagogue, but if you want the support of Jews for this project, you need to reclaim the cemetery, too."
* See:"Zhovkva Synagogue: Future Museum of Galician Jewry?" in Jewish Heritage Report, II:3-4 (1998-1999); Jewish Cemeteries, Synagogues and Mass Graves in Ukraine (US Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad, 2005) . For more recent accounts see Ruth Ellen Gruber, Jewish Heritage Travel (Washington, 2007), and Omer Bartov, Erased: Vanishing Traces of Jewish Galicia in Present Day Ukraine (Princeton, 2007), and Ruth Ellen Gruber, Ukraine -- Restoration Works on the Synagogue in Zhovkva (Nov 7, 2008).
Attack on Kirovograd Synagogue Thwarted
ISJM, October 23, 2008
The Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union reports (in BIGOTRY MONITOR, Volume 8, Number 41, October 17, 2008) that an attack on the historic Great Choral Synagogue of Kirovograd in Ukraine was foiled by the local SBU, a successor to the KGB. A group of far-right extremists allegedly planned to blow up the century-old synagogue, according to an October 7 report by Interfax. The SBU uncovered the group early this year but only just announced the fact.
The Kirovograd synagogue, located at Dzherzhinsky St., 90/40, was returned to the Jewish community in 1991. It also houses a small Jewish history museum on the upper floor, has been the site of previous anti-Semitic attacks.
In January 2006, Kirovograd inaugurated new square near the synagogue dedicated to victims of the Holocaust. A Holocaust memorial has stood on the spot for many years, but the site was contested by a local developer. Long-term city residents recall that the site of the square was the spot where Nazi soldiers gathered Jews from the city and region on Yom Kippur of 1941 prior to murder.
Poltava Holocaust Monument Vandalized
ISJM, July 18, 2008
The Union of Councils for Jews in the former Soviet Union cites a July 14, 2008 article in the "Versiya" newspaper reporting that a Holocaust memorial and "Mourning mother" memorial in the Ukrainian city of Poltava were smeared with paint, Ukrainian national symbols and anti-Semitic graffiti. The monuments commemorate more than 3,000 Poltava Jews killed there on Nov. 23, 1941 and more than 5,000 Red Army prisoners of war and resistance fighters who were murdered there during World War II.
Kremenets cemetery restoration project identifies hundreds of gravestones as parking lot pavements
By Samuel Gruber
ISJM, June 27, 2008
Researchers for the Kremenets (Ukraine) Jewish Cemetery Restoration Project have identified several areas in the town where Jewish gravestones from the large cemetery are being used as parking lot paving, first installed during the Second World War by the occupying Germans, and in place ever since. Two areas adjacent to the former Gestapo headquarters have been identified. In addition, it is thought that a large area around the Lyceum – used by the Germans as a military hospital – also has buried matzevot. A project has been developed to move these stones, which probably date from the 18th and 19th century and number in the hundreds, back to the cemetery and to photograph and transcribe their inscriptions as part of a larger project to document, protect and preserve the historic site. The group seeks funds for retrieving the stones and creating a memorial (still to be decided).
The Kremenets Cemetery project was begun in 2004. The project began with photos of the 3,200 individual matzevot that were visible, and continued with removal of excess vegetation from the 25,000 square meter site. Detailed maps identifying site constitutions, types of vegetation and the location and condition of all gravestones and other notable features were then prepared by a team led by L'viv-based Professor V.P. Kucheryavyi developed the plan.
Their report and other results of Phase I of the Project
The plan provides an exemplary effort of site documentation which should be required before similar cemeteries before any repair or conservation work is undertaken. The examination of the site in phase I more than doubled the number of known gravestones at Kremenets. It also documented the effects of wartime vandalism of the cemetery and the subsequent half century of neglect.
website of the KJCPC
Includes reports detailing the full results of Phase I and other aspects of the projects.
Phase II of the Kremenets Jewish Cemetery Project is designed to begin with some stone conservation and gravestone re-erection on the site. This will be done within the confines of a stone conservation training program which will involve local workers and create a ongoing and economically useful conservation program. The hope of local officials is that these skills can then be transported to other needy sites in Western Ukraine. The training course in Kremenets will be followed by a pilot project in the old part of the cemetery. If done properly, this work will set a new, and much needed standard for Jewish and non-Jewish cemetery restoration work in Ukraine. The primary partners in this effort are the Kremenets-Pochayiv State Historical-Architectural Preserve, the municipality of Kremenets, and the nascent Jewish community in Kremenets. Some grants have been received, but additional funds are needed before Phase II can begin.
Questions can be directed to the director of the project, Dr. Ron Doctor