NOTE: This updates our post yesterday (Feb. 25).
Former synagogues in two villages near each other in western Belarus are up for sale.
One, the former Great Synagogue in Ostrino (Astryna), goes up for auction March 18 with a starting price of just 116 rubles, or €37. The other, in Vasilishki, about 24 km away, will be auctioned March 15 with a starting price of 47 798.56 rubles, or around €15,000.
Both villages, located near today’s borders with Poland and Lithuania, were majority-Jewish shtetls before the Holocaust.
Both former synagogues have long been used as culture centers, and both auctions are organized by the State Property Committee. The auction announcements do not identify the buildings as former synagogues.
The two-storey brick former synagogue in Ostrino is being sold by the Department of Ideological Work, Culture and Youth Affairs of the Shchuchin District Executive Committee, which had used it as a House of Culture.
The synagogue was built in the early 20th century, as part of a complex of two masonry synagogues that replaced two wooden synagogues destroyed in a fire in 1898, according to a detailed history and description of the building carried out in 2000 and held by the Center for Jewish Art.
It functioned as a synagogue probably until 1939, and after WW2 was rebuilt for other purposes — already in 2000 it housed a theatre and House of Culture. (The latest information we have is that the second synagogue also remains standing, but is abandoned.)
The auction notice described the 478 square meter property as a “specialized building for cultural, educational and entertainment purposes” that included an “entrance hall, terrace, two sheds, [and] restroom.” It said it would also be possible to convert it for housing.
The terms of the sale would allow the building to be demolished and a new building be constructed on the site.
If the buyer restores the existing building, the new function of the building must be operational within three years of the sale — if it is demolished and a new structure built on the site, it must be operational within five years of the sale.
Its exterior is covered with a new, pale brick facing, but the original structure, with its arched windows and peaked roof, is still evident. It is being sold by the Vasilishkovsky rural executive committee.
Conditions similar to those for Ostrino apply to the sale.
The synagogues in Ostrino and Vasilishki are the latest to go up for sale for a low or nominal price in Belarus in recent weeks. (It’s not clear why one is priced so low.)
In January, authorities in Vitebsk, the hometown of the artist Marc Chagall, announced it wanted 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.
At the end of December, the long-abandoned 17th century Great Synagogue in Slonim was sold at auction to a musician/writer from Minsk named Ilona Karavaeva (Ioanna Reeves), for c. €9,000.