Recent Jewish heritage developments in the city of Poznan in western Poland have made headlines: the Jewish community is reported to have sold the former synagogue, apparently to a hotel developer, and the city wants to rescue Jewish gravestones that the Nazi occupiers used to line an artificial lake created during WW2.
In an interview with Radio Poznan, Poznan Jewish community president Alicja Kobus confirmed that the synagogue had been sold for development as a luxury hotel but said the building would also include a small synagogue and a museum on local Jewish history and heritage and a memorial to Righteous Among Nations. Other details have not been released, but architectural plans to transform it into a hotel were drawn up already three years (or more) ago.
The Nazis despoiled the once grand, domed synagogue, built in 1907, and turned it into a swimming pool, which remained in use until the mid-2000s, when ownership was returned to the Jewish community. Since then the building has stood empty and in deteriorating condition, while debates went on about its future. (See JTA story from 1942 about the swimming pool.)
As of November 24, there was still a notice on the Poznan Jewish community web site seeking contributions to restore the synagogue as a center for dialogue.
Meanwhile, the city of Poznan said it wanted to reclaim and rescue the matzevot that the Nazis uprooted from the city’s Jewish cemetery and used to line and reinforce Rusałka Lake, an artificial body of water created in 1941-1943. The Nazis used Jewish forced labor to build the lake.
The lake today is part of a popular park, where people can swim in the summer. Fragments of matzevot from time to time wash up on shore.
Reuters reports that recovery work is expected to begin in December, with the aim of using the recovered matzevot to create a memorial.
They will start by using sonar to ascertain the number of gravestones in the lake. The next step will be to work out how the gravestones can be recovered without disturbing the lake’s ecosystem. The plan is to work with the local Jewish community to create a memorial, possibly at the lake itself.
Watch the Reuters video about the story:
In a Times of Israel blog post three years ago, the Catholic priest Eric Ross, who then lived in Poznan, described the lake and its history:
He quotes the recollections of a local academic, Wojciech Meixner:
Jews imprisoned in forced labor camps in Krzyżowniki, in Strzeszyn, in Golęcin and in Fort Radziwill constructed the Lake. Prisoners were used to break up bricks from a demolished brickyard on Niestachowska Street. Then they dumped out the rubble to form new roads and paths, then rolled it flat. Slave laborers also fortified the banks of the river Bogdanka.
Jews were in the worst situation of any of the prisoners: they were forced to work in Golęciński Wood [the spot that became the Lake itself]. The river flowed through this wood. Clay pits were there, too. In this place, often standing waist-deep in water, Jews had to dig the depression that, after the waters of the river were dammed, became Lake Rusałka.
To strengthen the bottom and banks of the lake, as well as other surrounding structures, they used matzevot.
I remember when I was a child I often went with my parents to walk around Rusałka. I remember a little bridge, in the Woli neighborhood, over the spot where the Bogdanka flows into Rusalka. It was built with stone slabs covered with Hebrew writing. They were gravestones. The bridge still stands there today; the Hebrew letters are no longer visible.
The memorial places on a wall in a corner of the site 30 pieces of matzevot that were used as paving stones in the city’s streets for several decades, along with three commemorative plaques with text in Polish, Hebrew and English.
The plaques read:
“There was a time when matzevot were used for pavement; a time when the memory of the people buried under the matzevot was most literally broken, trampled upon, and maimed. Some remnants have survived and today this memory is connected with the gratitude to those who contributed to its rescue. ‘A man shall be satisfied with good by the fruit of his mouth, and the doings of a man’s hands shall be rendered unto him’ (Prov. 12:14).”