The Jewish community in the village of Police in the southern Czech Republic dwindled away by the early 20th century, but its 18th century synagogue is under renovation to serve as a culture center and museum about the lost world of rural Jewish life in central Europe.
Jewish Heritage Europe Coordinator Ruth Ellen Gruber visited Police to see the progress of the work — which includes recovery and restoration of interior wall paintings, which now exist only in fragmentary form; she also visited the well maintained Jewish cemetery, dating from the 17th century and located down a lane just outside the village.
Police lies amid rolling hills near the town of Jemnice, almost on the border with Austria. The compact little synagogue was built in 1758 in the Baroque style by the builder Matyas Kirchmayer of nearby Kdousov and later modified several times.
Located on what was the town’s Jewish street, it was used for worship until the end of the 19th century; then it was sold, and in the early 20th century its interior was reconstructed for used as a gymnasium — a door was cut into where the Ark had been located. In recent years the building was returned in devastated condition to the ownership of the Federation of Jewish Communities.
Its restoration plan is outlined as follows:
Complete restoration of the building with included renovation of the inside paintings under the supervision of the National Heritage Institution. The synagogue should then be used for museum purposes. The aim is to return to the original look of a modest country synagogue. A permanent exposition of the [topic] of country synagogues and Jews in the Bohemia regions should be then installed.
The progress of the restoration has been hampered by the fact that the synagogue was one of six Jewish heritage sites (the synagogues in Pisek, Caslav, Neveklov, Rychnov nad Kneznou, and Police u Jemnice, plus the rabbi’s house in Plzeň) for whose renovation the Federation had hoped to get an EU grant, as a follow up to the EU-funded 10 Stars renovation of Jewish heritage sites in 10 towns around the country.
The grant request failed because of bureaucratic delays associated with the construction tender.
The Federation is now continuing with the Police project with its own resources as well as funding from sources including the Czech Ministry of Culture and Vysočina Regional Office in Jihlava.
Work is expected to be completed by 2021 (or, possibly, 2020). The total cost of the project is estimated at at 7.5 million Czech crowns (€292,000). Project managers estimate that around 3 million Czech crowns (€117,000 ) are needed to complete the work.
To date, the reconstruction work has included:
- research, building projects, obtaining of building and preservation permits
- repair of crofts and roofing
- removal of recent structural changes
- dehumidifying of the foundations and plinths of the masonry, de-sewerage, electrical connection, electro-installation
- building works – reconstruction of the women gallery, fitting of new doors and window frames
- restoration research of interior painting of vaulting and walls
Restoration of the paintings is going on now.
Remaining reconstruction work includes:
- restoration of the aron-ha-kodesh, bimah and the ledge of the women gallery
- repair of flooring and inside staircase
- completion of the equipment with 3 lightning devices and wooden benches
- restoration of the outside façade and adaptation of close surroundings of the memorial
- production of panels with the permanent exposition
When completed, the Police synagogue, together with the Jewish cemetery, will form a major attraction for the village. The two sites are already located on a big public map, and local officials seem keen to promote them. The village also has a small caslte, now the site of a tourism office and a new museum about Czech airmen in the Royal Air Force in World War II.
The Jewish cemetery, owned by the Federation, is walled, well maintained, and has a restored pre-burial hall and an information plaque. The oldest legible of the 260 stones dates from 1681, and many bear fine baroque and classical carving.