The historic abandoned synagogue in Slonim, Belarus — long the focus of fitful attempts at restoration — is up for sale. Belarus media report that the Slonim District Executive Committee Department of Culture has put it up for auction in Grodno on June 15. The starting price is €50,000.
Built in 1642 in the Baroque style, the synagogue, owned by the municipality, is the best preserved synagogue in Belarus, despite its precarious condition. Its interior preserves frescoes, a decorated Ark, and a four-pillar bimah, as well as other features.
Sale of the synagogue would be bound by certain restrictions due to the historic nature of the building, the media reports said.
It will be possible to reconstruct the synagogue as a religious building, or for cultural, educational or performance purposes. Moreover, “artistic, stylistic and design features” must be retained. A 5-year limit for carrying out the restoration process is also included in the terms.
The Slonim synagogue is currently the focus of a restoration campaign, initiated under the auspices of the Foundation for Jewish Heritage (FJH). Watch a video about the synagogue, prepared for the campaign:
To date, according the FJH CEO Michael Mail, the Foundation has funded roof repairs on the building and installed devices to monitor movement in the walls to establish whether there is significant foundation movement.
He told JHE:
As a next stage, the Foundation is engaging consultants to further develop the project plans to achieve our longer term objective of developing the site as a place of education and memorialisation, while also providing a cultural venue for the city. In doing this, we are following a timetable which was established some time ago.
Already in the mid-1990s, the World Monument Fund put the Slonim synagogue on its Watch List of 10 Jewish heritage preservation priorities; the WMF funded restoration work on the building in the early 2000s.
The building, with its dramatic gabled roof and imposing exterior, features an impressive group of paintings and carvings, including a collection of murals depicting musical instruments, scrollwork, and biblical scenes. Though built for the city’s once-sizeable Jewish community, in recent years Slonim has undergone substantial deterioration, largely as a result of the decimation of the local population during World War II and subsequent disuse of the synagogue. The building was used as a warehouse and was subject to vandalism, resulting in serious structural problems. When WMF began work at the site, the building’s roof had partially collapsed and its walls were structurally unstable..