(JHE) — The former synagogue of Wojsławice, a township in southeastern Poland, was inaugurated in November as a cultural center, with a new permanent exhibit focusing on the township’s pre-WW2 multicultural tradition.
A mezuzah was affixed to the entrance as part of the inauguration — a ribbon-cutting ceremony and concert that took place online because of the pandemic.
The opening was the final stage of a broader project involving Wojsławice and two other villages that highlights local Jewish, Catholic, and Orthodox Christian heritage called The Wojsławice Area Cultures and Traditions Trail – the Protection and Use of the Cultural Heritage of the Wojsławice Community.
Co-financed by the EU’s Regional Development Fund for the Lublin Voivodeship and the Government Fund for Local Investments, the project involved the work at the synagogue, as well as the development of a Center for Cultures in the nearby village of Majdan Ostrowski, and a Center for Old Cultures and Traditions in Rozięcin. Altogether, costs totalled around 4 million złoty (about €900,000).
“We promote Wojsławice as the center of three cultures,” the village’s mayor Henryk Gołębiowski told local media. “Apart from the synagogue, also a historic [Catholic] church and Orthodox church have been preserved”.
Built in 1890-1903, the so-called New Synagogue was devastated by the Nazis during WWII, and none of its original wooden furnishing survived. After 1944, the building was used as a grain warehouse. Around 30 years ago, local authorities restored the synagogue to serve as a municipal library and conference room, while the women’s gallery hosted temporary exhibitions. It also had a memorial room with exhibits evoking the town’s multicultural past.
In preparation for its reopening with the new exhibit, the building was refurbished, including repair of the drainage, the renovation of the facade and the interior, renovation of the windows and other fittings, and the installation of a new heating system.
The new permanent exhibition about the “Three Cultures” — the Jewish, the Roman Catholic, and the Orthodox Christian — was installed in its main hall, while the women’s gallery will host multi-function educational center as well as temporary exhibitions, conferences, concerts, and other events.
The new exhibit was curated by Emil Majuk, a Jewish heritage expert at the Brama Grodzka NN Theatre in Lublin who was the lead coordinator of the Shtetl Routes project on Jewish heritage in eastern Poland, Belarus, and western Ukraine.
It includes ritual objects from the three religions, as well as other objects and artifacts related to the village’s history, displayed in ten large glass display cases. Moreover, information panels tell the history of the village through its three cultures, and multimedia touch screen boards with audio-visual content were installed around the bimah.
“The ten display cases tell the story of the town, of the Catholic and Orthodox churches, and the synagogue — or actually the story of Orthodox and Catholic Christianity and Judaism in Wojsławice, because representatives of these denominations lived here together from the mid-15th century,” Majuk said. “We wanted to respect the memory of this building and tell the story of both this place and the Jewish inhabitants of Wojsławice, a majority of whom were murdered in the Holocaust.”
Watch Majuk introduce and explain the new exhibit — it’s in Polish but has subtitles in English.
According to the data from the 1921 census, the population of Wojsławice at that time included 1187 Catholics, 835 Jews, 444 Orthodox Christians, and 3 Evangelicals.
Wojsławice also had an Old Synagogue, built in the 1780s, which, after the construction of the New Synagogue, hosted a Jewish school and its teachers’ apartments. This building also was devastated by the Nazis during WWII. After the war, it was converted into a grain mill and was finally demolished in the 1970s.