(JHE) — A prominent new Holocaust memorial in Gorlice, in southern Poland, is a pavilion-like building shaped like a Star of David that conserves numerous matzevot and fragments discovered at the site of a former Hasidic bet midrash in the city that was razed in 2016 — and, in a rare step, includes translations of many of the epitaphs.
Called “Sidur Przechodniów” (Siddur of Passers-by), the new monument stands outside the entrance to the Jewish cemetery and is the permanent centerpiece of a broader project on Jewish heritage and history in Gorlice, which saw outdoor cinema, online events, and street art — including rain-activated murals.
Called “Past/Future — Jewish History Saved,” the 360,000 zloty (€78,000) project was carried out by the city in partnership with the New York-based United Gorlice Society, with 105,000 zloty (€23,000) funding from the Polish Foreign Ministry.
The new monument has no roof, but its upper beams form a Star of David, making a striking view from above.
On its walls, matzevot that were discovered in the floor of the former Hasidic Besht bet midrash have been positioned. They had been conserved for years in the Jewish cemetery.
Many Holocaust memorials use rescued matzevot and fragments in their design.
In an unusual step, in Gorlice, a number of the matzevot that are displayed in the new monument include translations into Polish of their Hebrew epitaphs. This creates a means for today’s visitors to engage with the memorial and learn more about the Jews who before the Shoah made up nearly half of the city’s population.
Dating from the late 19th century, the Besht bet midrash had been devastated by the Nazis and then was taken over by local authorities after WW2 and turned into fire station; it later was abandoned and fell into ruin.
According to the city the matzevot and fragments were discovered during excavation there in 2015 before the building’s demolition; Virtual Shtetl reports that some were discovered in 2011. They were taken to the Jewish cemetery for storage.
The Jewish cemetery dates from around 1800 and is listed as a monument. Devastated in WW2, with matzevot removed and used for paving and construction, the cemetery, with around 500 conserved matzevot, is now fenced and well maintained. A new ohel of rabbis from the Halberstam dynasty was built in 2015-16.
The former late 19th century Great Synagogue still stands. It was devastated in WW2, was used as a warehouse after the war, and has been used as a bakery since the late 1960s. It bears a commemorative plaque on its outer wall.