Thursday, January 20, 2011

Poland: New Booklet About Lancut

Lancut,Poland. Above: Synagogue (restored), Below: Lubomirska/Patocki Palace near the synagogue. Photos: Samuel D. Gruber (1993)


In November 2010 the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland released the English language version of the booklet 'Chassidic Route. Lancut', part of the organization's ongoing series of publications documenting the properties under its care, and the histories associated with those places. Together these sites have been linked as the Chassidic Route project, though often the Jewish history of specific places predates the rise and success of Hasidism, and includes non-Hasidic 18th-20th century components. Many of these places still have imposing remains of central synagogues - usually used by the entire community. The smaller shtibls and shuls where often the daily activity of Hasidic religious communities took place are long gone.

So far the Foundation has published brochures about
Chelm, Jaroslaw, Krasnik, Lesko, Lezajsk, Ropczyce, Rymanow, Sanok, Ustrzyki Dolne and Zamosc. They are all available in Polish and in English in online versions and hard print copies. Online versions can be downloaded from the "About Us" and "Heritage" sections, and can also be found at POLIN - Polish Jews Heritage web portal at www.polin.org.pl.

Lancut is one of the most impressive remaining Polish synagogues and it is also one of the best preserved, having successfully survived demolition attempts by both Nazis and Communists. The survival of the building is due to the foresight and courage of just a few individuals. The interior is remarkable for its fine central bimah (of the bimah-support" type), its womens' gallery above the entrance and opposite the Ark wall, and its exceptional and much discussed symbolic painted wall decoration.

After the fall of Communism restoration and care for the building became more popular. I first visited the synagogue in 1990, and I post some previously unpublished photos of the restoration of the building underway at that time.


Lancut, Poland. Synagogue under restoration. photos: Samuel D. Gruber (1990)

Like many important Jewish sites the synagogue was recognized as an architectural and artistic site of historic significance in the late 19th century, and was first restored in 1896 and again in 1909-10. During German occupation of Poland, the Germans attempted to set the synagogue on fire. The thick masonry wall survived, but the wooden women’s gallery, window frames and interior furnishings were destroyed. The fire was put out following the intercession of the local noble Alfred Antoni Potocki, who made an appeal to the German authorities. After the liquidation of the Łańcut ghetto, the Nazis turned the synagogue into a grain storehouse, and it was used as a warehouse until 1956 when the Communist-era the Town National Council moved to demolish the building.

This plan was courageously protested by Dr Władysław Balicki, who forced the council to withdraw its decision. Dr Balicki, along with the head of the Cultural Department of the National Council in Rzeszów, Jan Mincal, then allocated a fairly large sum of money for the renovation of the synagogue and organized an exhibition of Judaica inside it, a rare occurrence in Poland at that time. From 1973 on the synagogue was maintained by the Łańcut Castle Museum.

The building underwent major renovations in the 1980s and 1990s. Since 2009, it has been the property of the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland.

There are also two Jewish cemeteries in Łańcut: the old and the new. The first reference to the old cemetery, located in today’s Moniuszki St, dates back to 1671, but early all matzevot were removed and destroyed by the Germans during World War II. The cemetery is still however visited by Jews from all over the world, who pay tribute at the ohelot of Tzadik Naft ali Tzvi Horowitz of Ropczyce and Tzadik Eleazar Shapiro.

The new cemetery was founded around 1860 in today’s Traugutta St. During the war, all gravestones were removed from it by the Germans. A memorial plaque commemorating the site of the execution of Łańcut Jews in 1941-44 is installed on the site. There is also a surviving mikvah at Ottona z Pilczy St, built in 1908-10.

Additional information about the Jewish history of Lancut can be found in the booklet.

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