by Samuel D. Gruber
(ISJM) While Poland awaits the grand opening of Warsaw's long-anticipated multi-million euro Museum of the History of Polish Jews next month, the country also marks the opening of another Jewish museum in Płock. The former the 19th-century "Small (mala) Synagogue" of the central Polish town will open later this week, after a two-year renovation of a former Small Synagogue," as the Museum of Masovian Jews, a branch of the Museum of Płock Mazowiecki. This is not the restoration of the former synagogue, but the transformation of the building into a museum. The opening is scheduled for March 15th, 2013. I hope to visit the new museum when I am in Poland next month.
The attractive classical style brick synagogue has been vacant and in ruined condition for years, but since it is one of few synagogues in the Mazowsze region to survive the Holocaust, and the only one in Płock, the need for its preservation has long been recognized. The Jewish presence in Płock is thought to date to around 1400, and in 1939 about a quarter of the town's population was Jewish - almost all of whom perished in the Holocaust. Approximately 10,000 Jews from Płock and the environs were contained in the Płock ghetto. In 1945 only about three hundred survived.
The synagogue, known as a the "small synagogue," was built ca. 1810 originally also served as a school and offices of the Jewish community, and as a residence for the rabbi. In 1870, it was restored at which time a new Ark, was installed inside. The larger Great Synagogue was built in 1866 replacing an older "Great Synagogue." The newer building, a large domed eclectic-style building that incorporated classical and Moorish elements, was pillaged and burned in the Holocaust and the ruins were demolished in 1951. During the Second World War, the Small Synagogue building housed the Judenrat - the Jewish council that administered the ghetto.
In 1959/1960, the building became the property of the State Treasury and was soon thereafter designed an protected historic monument, but neglected. In 1997 the property was returned to the Jewish community of Lodz, which then sold it back to the city, relinquished rights to the property in exchange for 224 thousand. zł.
In 2004, after city planed to sell the building were withdrawn, the Stowarzyszenie Synagoga Płocka (Association of the Płock Synagogue) was formed and took the building over from the municipality with the intent of restoring the structure for cultural use. Initial support came from the Regional Operational Programme 2007-2013 Mazowiecki under the "Use of natural and cultural resources for tourism and recreation" provision. The Association signed a cooperation agreement with the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage (FODZ). As part of the agreement, the Foundation has provided significant support to the project.
The building structure from foundations to roof was strengthened, and a new roof was installed. The 19th-century interior was renovated for the museum. According to information on the museum website, the total cost of the project was over 9 million zł (more than 2,176,000 euro), of which 7.7 million zł came from the European Union.
The museum’s highlight is the multimedia exhibition on Jewish history and culture. An exhibition on the Holocaust will be displayed separately. The exhibition will include paintings by Feliks Tuszyński, a ninety-one year old painter who was born into a Jewish family in Płock and has been living in Australia since 1950. Forty paintings have been donated by the artist himself.
The building interior was redesigned to hold educational classes and concerts.