(JHE) — With overwhelming support from local citizens, authorities in the city of Konin are seeking funding to restore the town’s former synagogue and return it to dignified use as a cultural space.
The city acquired the nearly 200-year-old building in December from private owners, and at the end of March applied to the Ministry of Culture, National Heritage, and Sport for 800,000 zlotys (€175,000) to finance a first stage of conservation and restoration, focusing on the exterior and windows.
The synagogue was built in 1830 around a four-pillar central bimah decorated with colorful paintings. It was remodeled in the late 19th century and has moorish arched windows.
Both the synagogue and beit midrash (built around 1870) that stood next to it were devastated during World War II and used as stables and warehouses.
But the synagogue was beautifully restored in the 1980s and served as a library and cultural space, maintaining this function under lease after the buildings were restituted to Jewish ownership after the fall of communism.
The buildings, however, were sold in 2011 to a private owner who demolished the beit midrash in 2016, causing a local uproar.
The head of the Regional Office for the Protection of Monuments, who issued the demolition permit, was fired and in 2019 was fined, sentenced to a year’s suspended prison sentence and banned for four years from holding administrative posts in monumnets protection offices, Krzysztow Bielawski writes in the portal Jewish.pl.
The synagogue itself was reported in 2018 to be locked and disused.
After years of negotiations, authorities in December obtained possession of the building and the plot where the Beit Midrash had stood, exchanging it with the owner for an investment property.
Watch a video of the mayor visiting the synagogue in December and describing plans.
Obtaining ownership of the building “is very important for the history of the city itself, because the Jewish culture, the Jewish community before the war, was very strong in our city,” Mayor Piotr Korytkowski said at the time. “It is the identity of our city, therefore it is necessary to take care of this monument.”
Deputy mayor Paweł Adamów added, “The city wants to allocate the building for cultural purposes…Initial plans are to establish a Jewish cultural centre. We want it to be an important point on the tourist map.”
— 90.9 percent of responders answered “yes” to the question as to whether the synagogue should be returned to its previous used as a library and cultural space.
— 85.7 percent agreed that “the creation of a cultural and library space in the former synagogue may contribute to the revival of the old town”
— Asked what functions would be worth adding to the synagogue “so that it becomes a new cultural point on the map of Konin,” 62.4 percent said a Center of Four Cultures (i.e. activities devoted to Polish, Jewish, Russian and German cultures); 25.2 percent said a media library; 66.4 percent said concerts; and 59.7 percent said exhibitions.
— Asked what possible use could be made of the area behind the synagogue, 60.8 percent said it should be used as an “artistic and cultural courtyard” and 64.9 percent said an open-air cafe
— Asked how would you develop the area of the demolished beit midrash could be developed, 84.e percent said a commercial premises such as a cafe or Jewish restaurant; with much smaller percentages suggesting other uses ranging from residential and hotel to office space and gardens.