Jewish Heritage Report
Vol. II, Nos. 1-2 / Spring-Summer 1998
Painted Prayer House in Warsaw

Painted Prayer House Discovered in Warsaw’s Praga District :
Preservationists Fight to Stop Demolition.

A number of pre-World War II buildings are slated for demolition in Praga, the old district of Warsaw on the East side of the Vistula River – including a recently discovered prayer house.  Much of Praga, which had a large pre-War Jewish population, was spared destruction during and after the 1944 Warsaw Uprising (which followed the Warsaw Ghetto uprising by a year), because the area was occupied by the Russian army.  Now, new economic pressures are speeding the development of the area – much of which has been neglected for the past half-century.  Among the buildings to be destroyed are several of Jewish interest, including a recently discovered prayer house which functioned in the interwar years.  This structure, with its extant interior decoration, is unique.  It is the only surviving prayer house in Warsaw – a city that in the pre-War years was dotted with hundreds of such places.  Until this discovery, only the Nozyk Synagogue on Twarda Street remained of the hundreds of known pre-war synagogues and prayer houses of Warsaw.  The Nozyk Synagogue was restored in the early 1980s and now functions as the synagogue of Warsaw’s Jewish community.

The former Jewish prayer house in Praga, located at Targowa St. 50/52, has been used for many years as a warehouse.  The present occupants say that they would be more than happy to move, if they had a place to go.  None of the original furnishings or fittings of the prayer house are known to exist, but there are murals on the walls – damaged but recognizable.  These include scenes of the Temple Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, the tomb of Rachel and part of a set of zodiacs.

Warsaw, Poland.  Wall painting of Zodiacal sign of Cancer revealed at prayer
house in Praga District.  Photo:  Courtesy of Jewish Historical Institute, Warsaw.

The murals, part of a long Jewish folk art tradition, were possibly painted in the 1930s.  They are typical decorations for such a place – though few original examples are known to survive elsewhere.  An inscription in the synagogue says that "this is the gift of the sons of David Greenstein."  The sons are listed by name and the date is given as 1934.  It is not clear whether the gift and date refer to the entire prayer house, just the painted decoration, or some other feature.

Local historian and preservation activist Janusz Sujecki has been researching and documenting the Praga buildings, which also include the oldest building in Praga, iused to be a Jewish school.  Sujecki has previously researched the buildings of Warsaw’s Prozna Street, (see JHR, I:1, p. 4) a block which was subsequently listed by the World Monuments Fund on their Watch List of 100 most endangered sites.  That street is now that target of restoration efforts led by the Jewish Renaissance Foundation, established by the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation.

In Praga, Jansuz Sujecki has been leading an effort to have the prayer house listed as local protected historic site.  He and others of the Citizens Preservation Committee have posted unofficial landmark signs and explanation placards describing the significance of the site.  Sujecki is also researching former Jewish neighborhoods elsewhere in Warsaw, including the suburban bungalow communities. -- SG

To assist Sujecki’s efforts, the International Survey of Jewish Monuments has granted $500 to help cover costs of documentation and photography of the Praga buildings.  Additional contributions can be made through ISJM.

Warsaw, Poland.  Wall painting of Zodiacal sign of Gemini revealed at prayer
house in Praga District.  Photo:  Courtesy of Jewish Historical Institute, Warsaw.

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Updated: 1-7-99