Jewish Heritage Report
Issue No. 1 / March 1997
Jewish Renaissance Foundation Plans Restoration of Warsaw Properties
One of the last remnants of Warsaw's once densely populated Jewish district consists of four large tenement buildings on Prozna Street near Grzbowski Square. These buildings that once housed ground-floor shops with apartments upstairs became part of the Warsaw's "Little Ghetto" under Nazi occupation. After World War II , the buildings escaped demolition in Communist-sponsored building projects, but have deteriorated through neglect. The buildings need structural repairs and looting of the interior fittings poses a constant threat. But the buildings, and the essential quality of the area, can still be saved. The American Express Foundation has, through the World Monuments Fund Watch program, provided a $50,000 grant for emergency repairs. This grant has been supplemented by $25,000 gifts from the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation and the Kenneth and Evelyn Lipper Foundation.
For the past year, the Jewish Renaissance Foundation (headed by Hon.
Ronald S. Lauder) has negotiated with the City of Warsaw for purchase of
the properties to allow their restoration and reuse. As of February 1997,
the Jewish Renaissance Foundation had arranged for the purchase of the
rights to number seven, the most damaged structure and the only one without
current residents and has made a bid to the city for number nine. Assuming
the sale is completed, the Foundation plans to entirely restore these buildings.
The Jewish Renaissance Foundation is willing to provide as a gift to the
city the restoration of the facades of the remaining properties which are
still occupied. Plans call for a restoration of the street to something
of its pre-World War II architectural appearance, continuing a residential
and commercial mixed use of the street, and including exhibition space
to allow the telling of the history of Warsaw Jews and the Ghetto.
Cemetery Monument to be Dedicated in Wyszkow,
Photo: Recently discovered gravestones from Wyszkow cemetery, formerly used as pavement. © Wolcieck Henrykowski
Sharing the fate of its residents, the Jewish cemetery of Wyszkow, located fifty-seven kilometers from Warsaw, was devastated by the Nazis during the Holocaust. After deporting the town's Jews to concentration camps, the Nazis removed all tombstones and other visible signs identifying the site as a cemetery. Most of the tombstones were used to reinforce a river bank and eventually eroded away completely. Another 200 tombstones were used in the construction of local sidewalks, building foundations, and the floor of the local Gestapo headquarters.
In 1994, several families whose parents and grandparents were buried
at Wyszkow asked the U.S. Commission for Preservation of America's Heritage
Abroad to assist them in recovering tombstones and building a memorial
to the town's 5,000 Holocaust victims. This request led to a cooperative
effort between the town of Wyszkow, the Polish government, the Jewish community
of Warsaw, and the Jewish Historical Institute of Warsaw to construct a
monument on the grounds of the Wyszkow cemetery. The government of Poland
is providing the memorial tablets, and the U.S. Commission has obtained
project funding from over 100 private donors most of whom trace their roots
to Wyszkow. Ground for the memorial was broken on September 17, 1996 and
dedication of the memorial is scheduled for September 21, 1997.
Decentralization Makes for Problems in Slovak Republic
In Slovakia, most jurisdiction over property rights has been transferred from the central government to local governments. This decentralization has been part of efforts to democratize the country, but in some cases, it has complicated the fate of Jewish sites. An unfortunate example is the cemetery in Nova Mesta. The destruction of the town's 19th-century Jewish cemetery was halted when the good offices of Slovak President Michael Kovac were brought to bear. An agreement to aim for equitable resolution of the matter was reached. Since then, however, local officials have gone back on their commitments and the cemetery has been razed. Now, however, the Slovak government and the new city administrator of Nova Mesta have committed to the restoration and protection of the site.
Proposed Restoration in Spisska Podhradie,
The Friends of Slovakia Association, a nonprofit organization in California, in cooperation with the National Trust of Slovakia, has identified a synagogue in the village of Spisska Podhradie for preservation. The village, which was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is located below Spis Castle, one of the great monuments of Slovakia. Money for the project is being sought from the town, the state government, and private foundations. Peace Corps volunteers will work on the project. The synagogue, which is owned by the Jewish community, has been leased to the town for a symbolic sum for the purpose of establishing a Jewish Memorial and Museum of Jewish History of the region. The two-story synagogue, built in 1905, occupies approximately one quarter of a 785 square meter plot. Milan Vesely, who recently completed the restoration of the synagogue of Presov (Slovakia), has been named chief architect for the Spisska Podhradie restoration.
Inquiries on the project may be directed to Henry Siegel, President of the Friends of Slovakia Association, Luda Zubka 9, #31, 841 01 Bratislava, Slovakia. Telephone/Fax 0042 7 765 595/ Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ukraine Halts Devastation of Jewish Cemeteries
The privatization of public property allowed in Ukraine under the post-communist regime has threatened many abandoned Jewish sites. In 1996, a rash of new construction was allowed on historic Jewish cemeteries. The U.S. Commission, U.S. Department of State, the National Security Council, and many Jewish-American organizations protested. In October 1996, a U.S. fact-finding delegation spent two weeks in Ukraine, meeting with local and national government officials and Jewish leaders. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian government had appointed an interagency commission. In October 1996, a working group of this commission met in Lviv, a site of major contention where a large and historically important Jewish cemetery had been built upon by the former communist government, and where additional construction had recently been undertaken by the Lviv city government. At this meeting, a protocol was signed committing the city to cease any further construction at the site and to cooperate with the Jewish community in finding as alternative site for the businesses now located on the cemetery.
Even more important, the Ukranian government has ordered an immediate and absolute moratorium on any and all construction or privatization on sites that have already been identified as Jewish cemeteries either now or in the past. During this moratorium, a number of steps will be taken including the establishment of a Joint Cultural Heritage Commission to develop and agree on a comprehensive solution to the need to preserve and protect Jewish cemeteries and other sites.
Brody Cemetery Project
The first phase of an extensive photographic survey of the Jewish cemetery in Brody (Ukraine) has been completed. Organized by Neil Rosenstein and Benjamin Solomowitz, the survey includes photos of nearly 5000 extant gravestones and a new map of the cemetery. The stones of Brody are noted for their unusual height, many measuring over six feet tall. The second phase of the project, involves the transcription of the names and text on each stone. The complete transcription will provide a list of all persons buried in Brody from approximately 1838-1938.
A similar project will begin in the Ukrainian city of Snyatyn this spring. The information gathered will be used to compile a memorial book for the town.
For further information on either project, contact Dr.
Benjamin Solomowitz, 1785 Merrick Avenue, Merrick, NY 11566, (718) 740-1892.
Arson and Vandalism Target Polish Jewish Sites
Vandals entered the Jewish cemetery adjacent to the Remu synagogue in Cracow at night on either March 10 or 11 and knocked over 12 tombstones in the third attack on Jewish property in Poland in three weeks.
This follows an earlier attack on the Nozyk Synagogue in Warsaw, when shortly after midnight on February 26, fire damaged the original entrance of the synagogue, and blackened and littered the large vestibule with debris. Arson has been determined as the cause.
In the third incident, the windows of the Jewish Cultural Center were smashed in the southwestern town of Zary. The Polish government has condemned each of the acts and has promised to prosecute their perpetrators to the full extent of the law.
Effort to Preserve Jewish Cemetery in Warsaw Begins
Founded in 1806, the Jewish cemetery on Okopowa Street in Warsaw was one of the few Jewish cemeteries in Poland to survive World War II with a substantial percentage of its gravestones intact.
Many of the estimated 150,000 gravestones and monuments are artistically significant. However, destruction during the German occupation, when the cemetery was the scene of frequent executions of Ghetto Jews, and fifty years of Communist-era neglect, have left the cemetery in a terrible state of disrepair. Trees, weather, pollution and vandalism are rapidly destroying the cemetery. A few individuals, mostly connected with the Citizens Committee for the Protection of Jewish Monuments in Poland, have valiantly tried to preserve and protect the cemetery, but the enormity of the task requires international assistance.
In 1996, an international organization was formed to assist. The Friends of the Jewish Cemetery in Warsaw will raise money for security, maintenance, and will commence restoration of deteriorated tombs and establish a burial index to assist people who want to find ancestors buried in Warsaw. The Friends believe that there are thousands of Jews world-wide with ties to Warsaw and invite those individuals to join in saving this priceless cemetery.
For information on joining the Friends of the Jewish Cemetery in Warsaw write: P.O. Box 11645 Berkeley, CA 94712. E-mail: email@example.com. Website: http://www1.jewishgen.org/jcw.
Burmese Cemetery Threatened
The Jewish Community in Ragoon (Burma) was notified in November 1996 by the Yangon City Development Committee that cemeteries in four townships are to be closed and the facilities terminated. This closure affects the two Jewish cemeteries in Yangon and Myanmar. The development committee has allocated land for a new multi-national cemetery in North Okkalapa. The Jewish community in Rangoon is concerned not only with the cost and effort in developing the new cemetery, but with the maintenance and possible need to relocate the graves from the closed cemeteries. The community desperately needs diplomatic, monetary, and technical assistance.
For further information contact Ruth Cernea c/o Hillel, 1640 Rhode Island Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036.
Harvard & MIT Unite to Study Moroccan Mellahs
Prof. Susan G. Miller, Associate Director, Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University, and Prof. Attilio Petruccioli, Aga Khan Professor of Architecture at MIT have initiated an ambitious documentation project aimed at documenting the historic and cultural development of the mellah, the Jewish quarter of the Moroccan city. In pre-colonial times and even later, it was the place where the Jewish population lived, worked, prayed, and policed itself under the watchful eye of the Muslim authority. The mellah, one of the most distinctive features of Moroccan urban life, was such a prevalent feature of urban culture that in the popular mind, it became synonymous with Moroccan Jewish society. The high walls, usually penetrated by a single gate, that surrounded the mellah made it a separate quarter within or alongside the Muslim city. Yet beyond a few basic similarities, there seem to have been significant variations from one mellah to the next. Each mellah evolved over time, responding to influences of demography, politics, ecology, and the human imagination.
The easy comparison of the mellah with the ghetto of Europe overlooks the pervasive cultural differences that separate the North African Jewish experience from the European one -- differences based on distinctive patterns of inter-communal relations between Muslims and Jews that were unlike those which developed in the European setting. The Moroccan mellah requires an extensive and independent study of its own to determine if the structure of the Jewish community produced an original architectural form or simply adopted those of the surrounding environment.
Photo: Fez, Morocco. View of reputed house of great Rabbi of Fez. © Isaiah Wyner/WMF, 1989.
This multidisciplinary study will collect and analyze documentary and
graphic material to develop a detailed understanding of what the mellah
was, how specific mellahs were created, and how they evolved over
time. The data collected for the study could be used for a variety of purposes,
including that of architectural preservation The mellah is slowly being
transformed, its distinctive elements submerged in the larger urban sprawl.
It is crucial to document its historical and material reality soon before
it is erased completely or changed beyond recognition.
For further information, contact Prof. Attilio Petruccioli, Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture, MIT Room 10-390, 77 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02139-4307/(607) 253-1400.
The Center for Jewish Art Announces Projects, Including Survey of Art in Georgia (Asia)
The Center for Jewish Art was established at the Hebrew University in 1979 to preserve the world wide Jewish artistic heritage. Its activities include documentation, research, education and publishing in the field of Jewish art. Since 1991, the Center has been surveying and documenting Judaica in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Expeditions have been sent throughout Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Continued work in all of these areas is planned for the coming years.
The Center's priority projects for 1997 include increasing support in graduate scholarships and grants for new immigrant, post-doctoral, architectural researchers; moving into Stage II of the computerization of the Index of Jewish Art; expeditions to Prague, St. Petersburg, the British Isles, the Netherlands, Eastern Europe, Georgia, India, and Central Asia to survey collections and document architectural monuments; producing and distributing six publications; and hosting a three-week summer seminar in Israel, a symposium on Jewish Art in Greece in September, 1997, and continuing preparations for the Sixth International Seminar on Jewish Art to be held in 1999.
The planned expedition to Georgia is among the most urgent Center tasks. Reports from Jews leaving the region make it clear that as the Jewish community dwindles in size, the treasures of Jewish art and architecture are fast disappearing. The Center organized a preliminary survey in 1993 by a researcher formerly from Georgia. In the summer of 1997, plans are to send a full team to document and photograph Judaica in Tbilisi, Ahal-Tzihe, Sochumi, Gori, Oni, Bandga, Batumi, Kulashi, Poti and surrounding villages. The team will include an architect and photographer from the Center for Jewish Art and four researchers from the Jewish University in St. Petersburg. A survey of this type require many precautions -- such as body guards and official vehicles -- all of which add to the project costs. The Center still seeks underwriting of this important effort.
The Center also continues to develop its project to create a detailed study of a typical shtetl, ultimately planning to document all physcial aspects of shtetl life -- synagogues, residences, mikvaot, cemeteries, tombstones, etc. -- and to recreate these in a computer simulation , as a three dimensional model of the shtetl using a CAD (computer aid design) program. Plans are for such a model, cross referenced to the Center's enhanced main informational database, to serve as the basis for an interactive CD-ROM.
For more information, or to make donations, contact The
Center for Jewish Art, POB 4262, Jerusalem 91042, Israel, Tel 972-2-6586605/Fax
English Judaica Surveyed
The Hidden Legacy Foundation is setting up a project in England to photograph and document Judaica in synagogues. It has started with the textiles in the Westminster Synagogue, and other objects from the holdings of the Northwood Liberal Synagogue. These are being recorded by photographer Rabbi Frank Dabba Smith, and documented by Evelyn Friedlander, assisted by Dr. Helen Fry. Future survey sites will include synagogues in Plymouth and Exeter. It is hoped that these pilot projects will be the basis for a more extensive effort in the future.
For more information write: Hidden Legacy Foundation,
Kent House, Rutland Gardens, London SW7 1 BX, England. (tel. 0171 584 2754
/ fax. 0171 581 8012).
A survey of Jewish monuments in Britain and Ireland, directed by Sharman Kadish and members of the Working Party on Jewish Monuments has also begun, with help from grants form the Royal Institute of Bristish Architects and the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England.
Dr. Kadish has been in the forefront of the nascent effort to preserve aspects of Britain's Jewish past. In 1991, she convened the important conference "The Future of Jewish Monuments in the British Isles," which stimulated interest in documenting and preserving Britain's Jewish heritage.
Kadish's survey will focus on synagogues, but will also include other
sites significant to Jewish life, including East End soup kitchens and
garment worker trade union headquarters. Kadish hopes that "the survey
will establish Jewish architecture in the mainstream of British art history,
where it rightfully belongs." Britain boasts the first known modern
citizen's effort to save a Jewish site -- the "anti-demolition league"
founded in 1886 to prevent the razing of Bevis Marks Synagogue. There has
been less interest in saving Jewish monuments in recent years, and many
19th-century synagogues have been demolished, including the Great Synagogue
of Manchester and the East End Synagogue in London. One important goal
of the survey is to gain list protection for the more important sites.
For more information, contact write The Working Party for Jewish Monuments, c/o Alex Rosenzweig, Jewish Memorial Council, 25 Enford Street, London, W1, or email Sharman Kadish at Sharman@vms.huji.
Recent publications on English Jewish Monuments: Tony Kushner, ed. The
Jewish Heritage in British History: Englishness & Jewishness. (Frank
Cass, London, 1992); Paul Lindsay. Synagogues of London. (Vallentine
Mitchell, London, 1993); Sharman Kadish, Ed.. Building Jerusalem: Jewish
Architecture in Britain. (Vallentine Mitchell, London, 1996)
Return to Top of International Notes
Return toJewish Heritage Report - Table of Contents
Contact the Editor of Jewish Heritage Report