Of the several Jewish synagogues that existed in the Kazimierz Jewish district in historic Krakow, Tempel synagogue survived World War II due to its re-use as a stable during the city’s German occupation. Built in 1862 in an exuberant blend of Moorish and neo-Romanesque styles, Tempel synagogue was home to a modern Reform Jewish congregation within one of Europe’s oldest Jewish communities. Tempel synagogue is prominently located at the intersection of Miodowa and Podbrzezie Streets near the principal entrance to Krakow’s former Jewish district, which was granted to the Jewish community by Polish King Casimir IV the Jagiellonian in the second half of the 15th century. The plan of Tempel synagogue accommodated a women’s gallery at the second story level on both sides of its central nave, a bema in its sanctuary, with the Torah Ark located at its west end The synagogue and its attendant buildings formed a small campus that included a mikva at the western-most border of the property.
How We Helped
During Poland’s Soviet period, there was almost no local, national, or international capacity for restoring Jewish heritage sites such as the abandoned Tempel synagogue. Following a WMF-sponsored survey of Jewish heritage sites in Poland that was conducted in 1992, Tempel synagogue was idenfied as a site of high architectural, cultural, and symbolic value as a demonstration project for both the conservation and advocacy for the protection of Jewish heritage in the post-holocaust and post-Soviet emerging central and eastern European countries. The restored synagogue is presently used for religious ceremonies, music performances, and serves as a destination for travelers to the UNESCO World Heritage city of Krakow.
Why It Matters
Most of the Jewish populations of Eastern Europe and traces of their built heritage such as synagogues were decimated during World War II. Reconciliation, healing, and even access to Jewish heritage sites could not begin until 1991 after Poland’s independence from the Soviet Union. The importance of remembering the artistic and cultural legacies of the Jewish communities that had once been vibrant elements of the life of Poland and other countries became an important component of the rebuilding of the post-Soviet era. With WMF’s help, projects such as the return of Tempel synagogue to religious use became beacons for renewed interest, and efforts to preserve Jewish heritage in the former East Bloc.