A meeting of cultures

05 Sep 2012

The renovation of a historic synagogue in Poland to a Centre for Meeting of Cultures has opened to the public, as a tribute to the cultural identity of Dabrowa Tarnowska

The newly renovated 19th-century synagogue in Dabrowa Tarnowska, Poland, has been officially opened to the public. The restoration of this historical building, which had previously been in complete ruins, commenced in 2007 and was made possible thanks to EU financial subsidies.

The dedication ceremony for the renovated Great Synagogue of Dabrowa Tarnowska, now the Centre for Meeting of Cultures (Osrodka Spotkania Kultur), was covered internationally and included many dignitaries. The Jewish Community of Dabrowa Tarnowska was represented by Steve Perlman, Debra Brand and Warren Brand, speaking at the historic event and presenting a letter of appreciation to those responsible for the preservation. Henry Jablonski, nephew of Shmuel Roth (Holocaust survivor, guardian of the Shtibl and last religious Jew in Dabrowa Tarnowska), was also in attendance. The Roth family placed the Holocaust memorial in the cemetery, and a documentary film about the Roth story will release in Poland later this year.

The Centre, which thus far has only occupied the confined rooms in the local library, will house a variety of exhibits and tributes to the city's cultural heritage. An exhibition on Judaism will be mounted, comprising exhibits that has come from the house of the last surviving Jew who remained in Dabrowa Tarnowska, Samuel Roth, who passed away in 1995. An openwork observation landing will enable visitors to marvel at the prayer room, frescoes and the synagogue’s construction from above. The building will be equipped with an electronic system enabling both individual visitors and groups of visitors to view the exhibitions in various foreign languages.

Visitors will enjoy modern multimedia tools, such as info kiosks with an extremely rich and diverse content, including manor house and religious architecture, heraldry, Powisle material culture, folk culture, the Galician slaughter, Chasidic movement, and the history of the synagogue. In addition to the permanent exhibition, occasional temporary exhibitions, concerts and cultural events will be organised there. 

The district community decided, under Communist rule, to give up the dilapidated building and give it to the state, on the condition that they open a cultural centre there. This was not fulfilled, and it is only thanks to a $3m grant from the European Union and with the help of contributions from the Polish Culture Ministry, the municipality, and the Krakow Jewish community, that the renovations were completed in August after two years.

The renovation is not without controversy amongst the Polish community amid claims of unfair employment. 'The Jews have a synagogue, but we’ve got no money,' read billboards erected along a number of main roads leading to the Krakow district town, written by a city council member from the Law and Justice. The representative of the right-wing party also claims that not all those who worked on the renovation got paid what they had been promised.

The mayor responded to any negative press surrounding the renovation by commenting: “It’s our obligation to nurture our history and our joint heritage.”

Samantha Morley

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