(JHE) — Authorities in Vitebsk, the hometown of the artist Marc Chagall, want to sell the roofless ruins of the city’s Great Lubavitch beis midrash (synagogue) for a nominal price — or give it away free — to whoever will invest in the conservation of the ruins or restoration of the building, which is listed as a historic monument.
The synagogue is on a list published at the end of January of 17 abandoned and/or ruined buildings recognized by the state as historical and cultural heritage that Vitebsk Regional Executive Committee is offering with tax breaks and other benefits for investors.
The list states that the synagogue ruins have no owner, and may be “restored or mothballed,” i.e. conserved as ruins.
“Investors are provided with tax incentives and preferences for the restoration of acquired architectural monuments,” an announcement by the region’s State Property Committee says.
These objects can be offered both for sale at an auction for a nominal amount, or free transfer to the ownership of the investor, for the implementation of an investment project. For an investor implementing an investment project, the state has today provided a number of incentives. Among them, such as exemption from VAT, import customs duties, land tax.
Besides the synagogue ruins, the list of abandoned/ruined heritage sites includes manor houses, monasteries, and a water mill.
The synagogue was built in 1904, a time when there were more than 80 synagogues and prayer houses in the town, according to the documentation of the Center for Jewish Art. Marc Chagall, born near Vitebsk in 1887, lived with his Hasidic family near the synagogue and prayed there, according to the CJA documentation.
Chagall moved to St. Petersburg in 1906 and then to Paris in 1910. His work was infused with Jewish elements, including nostalgia for his early life in Vitebsk. He died in 1985, aged 97.
Under the Soviet regime following the Bolshevik Revolution, the synagogue was closed. According to a report in the vitebsk.cc web site, before World War II, “the building first housed an aero club, and then a house of culture for woodworkers. After the war, a pharmacy warehouse was set up in the former synagogue, and then the building was completely abandoned, and it gradually deteriorated and fell apart.”
A Jewish heritage activist in Belarus told JHE that the small Jewish community of Vitebsk — which prays in a modern synagogue inaugurated in 2017 — is interested in receiving and restoring the ruins and “are seriously considering various investment projects and looking for sponsors.”
See the announcement of the sale on the web site of the State Property Committe of the Vitebsk executive
See a photo documentation of the ruined building by the Center for Jewish Art
See a detailed description of the ruins (in English) by the Center for Jewish Art
See the announcement on the