The Bente Kahan Foundation has begun to restore the more than century-old mikveh in Wrocław, Poland as both a functioning ritual bath and space for a permanent exhibition dedicated to the narrative of the Jewish lIfe cycle. The mikveh forms part of the Jewish community complex that also includes the White Stork synagogue and a small beit midrash.
The restoration will be carried out in a way that will enable the pools to be covered “and serve as a stage for intimate lectures, readings, theatre performances and concerts, and will also include a film room,” the Foundation said in a statement. Already since 2016, visitors have been able to learn about the mikveh on guided tours, and educational programs will be developed and expanded, it said.
Work is being carried out with support from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) the German Ministry of Culture through the Foundation for Polish-German Heritage and the City of Wrocław.
The mikveh dates from 1901 — when the city was Breslau, Germany — and was constructed with the aid of engineers from the University of Technology.
It was “one of the most advanced and modern mikvehs of the time,” the Foundation stated. “The size is impressive and is by itself a monument over Jewish life in both German Breslau and post-war Polish Wrocław.”
Upon entering […] you are in the former changing room (with a column in the middle which extends into the small synagogue above) where there used to be cabinets for clothing. Three small anterooms with bath tubs were used for preparation for immersion: careful cleansing of the body, brushing of hair, cutting of nails. The mikveh itself is made up of two pools with an adjoining container for kosher water, – rainwater collected from the roof, that flows into the pools through round openings. The room to the left was a wet sauna, with a hole in the wall for coal and marks where benches once were.
The statement continues:
It survived the war in fairly good shape along with the other buildings of the Jewish community and the White Stork synagogue, and from 1945 was once again used by the Jews of Wrocław. It served the community until about 1968 and then was confiscated by the communist authorities, as was the synagogue. It fell into disrepair over time, at one point even serving as a sewer for apartments above it in the same building.
The mikveh was returned to the Jewish community of Wrocław in 1997.
It was opened to a larger group of people for the first time in May 2011 during the conference „The Mikveh – Space, Function, Law and Motif” organized by the Jewish Studies Department at Wrocław University together with the Jewish community. It was also partially cleaned up by students at that time. That same year, the City of Wrocław funded the reconstruction of the roof over the pool.