Thursday, January 8, 2009

Poland: Short Film on Orla Synagogue

Poland: Short Film on Orla Synagogue

Tomek Wisniewski, the indefatigable chronicler of Jewish sites in the Bialystok Region and author of several guides to Jewish history and monuments in the area has recently adapted to video. He sent one his most recent projects...a short film highlighting the wonderful architecture of the great synagogue of Orla, and the terrible neglect the synagogue has suffered for decades. On-again off-again restoration projects have preserved the building, but it has been shuttered and almost forgotten. Tomek records a recent event that opened the building and brought flocks of local residents to see its grand interior for the first time in years.

I first visited Orla in 1990 when the building was still covered scaffolding. A photo from this trip was the "teaser" for the exhibition "The Future of Jewish Monuments" that traveled the USA beginning in 1990 (photo). Sadly, while many of the other building pictured in the exhibition have subsequently been restored, Orla has been "forgotten." As Tomak makes clear, it is time to remedy that situation.

Click here for the film on Youtube

Here are some of my photos of the synagogue.

Ruth Ellen Gruber has posted the video and these comments about the synagogue at Orla:

The striking synagogue, with a distinctive scalloped facade, was originally built in the 17th century. Its sanctuary has nine bays and a vaulted ceiling, and there are still some traces of marvelous painted decoration -- vines, garlands, floral motifs, and animals.

The building dominates the little town, where before the Holocaust Jews made up nearly 80 percent of the local population.

The synagogue was listed as a cultural heritage monument before World War II. Tomek reports that when it was all but destroyed in a huge fire in 1938, the Polish government stepped into to reconstruct and restore the building.

The synagogue was reconsecrated in 1939, but then the Nazis used it as a field hospital and later turned it into a warehouse for chemical fertilizer. For decades it has stood empty and in ever-deteriorating condition.

To read Ruth's full comments click here.

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