The Museum of Warsaw Praga, which includes a preserved and restored private Jewish prayer house decorated with vivid wall paintings, is nearing completion and should open by the end of the year. Local media toured the site earlier this month.
The museum is located in the Praga district, on the right bank of the Vistula River in a complex of three buildings that includes Praga’s oldest preserved residential building — a house built in 1819 by Berek Rothblith at ul. Targowej 50/52. The other two idate from 1873 and 1829-1830.
Praga had a large Jewish population before World War II. Much of its architectural infrastructure, including a number of Jewish sites, survived the war fairly intact — in contrast to central Warsaw across the river, which was almost totally destroyed. In the post-war decades, however, the district was neglected and became very rundown. The museum and other projects are part of a recent regeneration. Surviving Jewish sites include the former Jewish Students’ House, the Educational Department of the Warsaw Jewish Community, a mikveh, several prayer houses and residential houses where the places where mezuzot had been affixed can still be seen.
The buildings in the museum complex once included three Jewish prayer houses, a mikveh and a cheder. In the 1990s, polychrome wall paintings were discovered in two rooms of an outbuilding in the courtyard, which have now been restored as part of the museum. These included scenes and designs typical of synagogue decoration — the signs of the Zodiac, the Western Wall in Jerusalem and Rachel’s grave in Bethlehem. An inscription honoring the founders of this prayer house was also found.
The construction work was launched five years ago. The dilapidated state of the buildings and unexpected technical problems that arose during the construction delayed the termination of the work by two years. Humid and wet walls, which posed a significant danger to the entire construction, and the polychrome drawing especially, were the most difficult problems. They were safeguarded by injecting special chemical agents inside the walls. Testing of the site will take place in several weeks’ time; thereafter, exhibits will be gathered for an exhibition.