A new Jewish museum -- the Upper Silesian Jews House of Remembrance -- has opened, in the restored, red-brick, pre-burial house at the "new" Jewish cemetery in Gliwice, in southern Poland. (Address: 14 Księcia Józefa Poniatowskiego Street).
The opening ceremony took place January 31. The museum -- a fifth branch of the Gliwice municipal museum -- is a project of the city and its mayor and was fully financed by the city budget. It will be open Tuesday-Friday from 10 am-4pm; on Saturday from 11-5, and on Sunday from 10-5.
As we reported in July, the neo-Gothic building, with vaulted interiors and facade marked by a large central stained glass arched window arrangement, was constructed in 1902-1903 and designed by the noted Vienna architect Max Fleischer, who among other things also designed four synagogues and the City Hall (Rathaus) in Vienna. (At that time the city, then known as Gleiwitz, was part of Germany.)
The building consisted of three main parts: the central prayer hall, which led directly to the cemetery; the mortuary, where the deceased were prepared for burial; and the guard’s residence.
The building was devastated during World War II and used as a German military storehouse. It was partially transformed into apartments after the war, but its condition deteriorated over the years. It was listed as a cultural monument in 2003, and in 2007 the Jewish Community of Katowice donated the building to the city of Gliwice. Apart from repair of the roof, however, little was done to safeguard the building, pending concrete plans for its use — and despite years of lobbying for it to be converted into a cultural space highlighting Jewish history and culture.
Things changed in In 2012, when the ”Brama Cukermana” Foundation proposed to create in the building the Museum of Upper Silesian Jews — a plan accepted by local authorities and strongly supported by the Mayor. The local government of the city of Gliwice designated the local museum as the curator of the building and allocated funds for the renovation and transformation.
The new museum has as its mission "to study and commemorate the history of the Jews in Upper Silesia, from the Middle Ages to the present day. It is also a space for dialogue among various cultures, religions, and nations—a venue for meetings and debates on the history and relationships between the many societies that once inhabited these lands."
It has collected objects related to the material heritage of the Jews in Upper Silesia and will host a permanent historical exhibition on the subject, as well as educations programs.
The Jewish cemetery, which has about 600 grave markers, forms part of the complex.
Piotr Jakowenko, who was part of the team of curators, wrote last year:
An exhibition presenting the history of Upper Silesian Jews is also in the final stage of preparations. Its project is being created by the SENNA collective (Natalia Romik, Sebastian Kucharuk, Piotr Jakoweńko). A representative of the Gliwice Municipal Museum Bożena Kubit is responsible for the substantive issues. A relatively small space will accommodate an intimate exhibition, which thanks to modern technology and interactive elements will create a factually and visually rich narrative. One will find there many previously unpublished documents and graphic material, found during an extensive query all over the world.