by Samuel Gruber and Phyllis Myers

Jewish Heritage Council, World Monuments Fund

Eleonora Bergman and Jan Jagielski

Research Directors and Survey Coordinators, Poland



A Report to the United States Commission

for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad

Hon. Michael Lewan Joel Barries

Chairman Executive Director

From the Jewish Heritage Council, World Monuments Fund

Hon. Ronald S. Lauder Samuel Gruber

Chairman Director










Revised Second Edition, 1995




Preface to the Second Edition:

New Initiatives to Protect Jewish Monuments in Poland


  1. Cemeteries
  2. 2. Synagogues

    3. Historic Preservation Law

    I. Historical Introduction

    1. Jewish Heritage in Poland before the Holocaust

    2. The Destruction of Jewish Heritage during World War II

    3. The Fate of Jewish Heritage under Communism

    II. The Survey Project

    1. Why It Was Undertaken

    2. Scope and Methodology

    a. Organization

    b. Computerization

    c. Photography

    d. Conclusion

    III. Survey Results

    1. Survivors: Cemeteries

    a. Types of Jewish Cemeteries

  3. b. Care and Restoration of Jewish Cemeteries
  4. Survivors: Synagogues

IV. Polish Monuments Protection Law and Jewish Sites

1. Introduction

2. Background: The Framework of Polish Monument Protection

a. The Ministry of Culture and Arts

b. Voivodship Conservators of Monuments

c. Register Listing

d. Monuments of History

e. Funding

f. Cemeteries

3. Jewish Sites and Polish Monuments Law

a. Register Listing of Jewish Sites

b. The Value of Monument Designation for Jewish Sites

c. Historic Markers

4. Conclusion: Closing the Gap between Law and Reality



Appendix I: Synagogues and Former Synagogues in Poland

Appendix II: Towns Surveyed Listed Alphabetically

Appendix III: Cemeteries and Selected Information on Current Condition

Appendix IV: Cemeteries with Gravestones Dating from before 1800

Appendix V: List of Voivodship (Regional) Conservation Offices in Poland

Appendix VI: The Survey Instrument




This report provides an overview of the condition of Jewish cemeteries, synagogues and former synagogues located within the borders of present-day Poland. This information was collected over a period of four years in the site survey organized for this project and summarized here. The primary purpose of the report is to aid efforts to protect, conserve, and restore these sacred sites and monuments.

The report's appendices, however, are designed for a broader audience, particularly genealogists and travellers searching for information about the existence and condition of cemeteries in villages, towns and cities throughout Poland. Information about surviving synagogues and identifiable cemeteries is given in separate tables. Current use is indicated, and in the cases of cemeteries, an approximate number of surviving gravestones, and information about threats confronting the site. Travellers to cemeteries are advised to contact the U.S. Commission for more detailed information about each site and how to access the fuller database on the survey, including the names of local contact people. The type of information available can be surmised by reading the survey form which is included here as Appendix VI.

The complete database will be available for use at selected research centers. The database was installed at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. in October, 1993, and can be consulted there. For information on obtaining the survey database on computer disk, and about individual sites and restoration efforts discussed in this report, write to the United States Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad, 1101 Fifteenth Street, N.W., Suite 1040, Washington, D.C., 20005.

No information about individual burials was gathered in this survey project. For more information about individual sites, readers are encouraged to contact local regional conservation officials, whose addresses are included in Appendix V. The authors suggest that copies of correspondence with Polish officials concerning Jewish sites be sent to the U.S. Commission. Likewise, additional information and photographs, as well as corrections, are always welcome.




Current Polish place names are given for all locations, with the exception of Warszawa, where the authors have preferred the well-known English name, Warsaw. Polish diacritical marks are not used in the report, and when sites are listed alphabetically, they follow the order of the English alphabet. The Polish word for street, ulica (abrreviated Ul.), is used when giving addresses, especially in the tables.

Alternate language names for towns, including Yiddish names, are not given. To help identify the current names of any place of Jewish settlement, please consult the invaluable Where Once We Walked: A Guide to the Jewish Communities Destroyed in the Holocaust by Gary Mokotoff and Sallyann Amdur Sack (Avotaynu, Inc., Teaneck, NJ, 1991).



This report provides current information concerning the condition of over a thousand Jewish sites - primarily cemeteries and synagogues - throughout Poland. These sites, which are important to the heritage of many American citizens, require documentation as a first step to their protection and preservation. Much of this material was gathered firsthand in a collaborative survey undertaken by a unique international partnership which involved both government and private groups, and Jews and non-Jews.

The survey that is the subject of this report focused exclusively on the material remains of Jewish settlement in present-day Poland. Despite Poland's substantial contributions to monument documentation and preservation, Jewish and other minority ethnic and religious groups have been neglected. These include German Protestant sites in western Poland and Russian Orthodox sites in eastern Poland, particularly in the region along the border with Belarus.

To prepare this survey, visits to Jewish sites throughout the country took place over a period of four years, beginning in the spring of 1991. The work was coordinated by Jan Jagielski and Eleonora Bergman of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw. Much of the success of this project is due to the energies of Mr. Jagielski and Ms. Bergman, who brought years of research, experience, and commitment to the task.

More than twenty individuals throughout Poland worked to locate hundreds of cemetery sites, many unvisited for years. This dedicated group of field researchers, among them a number of distinguished scholars of Jewish history and culture, includes Adam Bartosz, Dariusz Czwojdrak, Hanna Domanska, Eugeniusz Duda, Pawel Fijalkowski, Marek Florek, Henryk Grecki, Wojciech Henrykowski, Wiktor Knercer, Alojzy Kowalczyk, Krzysztof Myslinski, Adam Penkalla, Slawomir Pniewski, Marzena Stocka, Pawel Sygowski, Dariusz Walerjanski, Tomasz Wisniewski, Michal Witwicki, and Jan Pawel Woronczak. Also in Poland, Maria and Kazimierz Piechotka provided indispensable information on the history and architecture of synagogues.

Many others in the United States and abroad - including Jerry Bergman, Jack Goldfarb, Ruth E. Gruber, Julie Harboe, Rena Holstein, Barbara Kaplan, Carol Herselle Krinsky, Arnold Markowitz, Sallyanne Sack, Dafna Siegman, Edward Serotta, Abe Soloman, Mark Talisman, Miriam Weiner, and James Young - provided valuable information about specific sites.

The United States Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad, the sponsor of this project, has been supportive throughout. We would particularly like to thank Commission Chairman Michael Lewan, former Commission Chairman Rabbi Arthur Schneier, Commissioner Israel Rubin, Commissioner Rabbi Chaskel Besser, and Commissioner Rabbi Zvi Kestenbaum, who have given special support to this project. Commissioner Rabbi Asher J. Scharf, who has participated in several cemetery restoration efforts, shared his experiences with us. Joel Barries, Executive Director of the Commission, provided valuable suggestions and guidance, as did Donald de Haven, Deputy Executive Director. Special thanks are due to the Wilfred P. Cohen Foundation, Inc. which provided financial support for this work.

The World Monuments Fund contributed in many ways to this work. WMF Chairman Dr. Marilyn Perry, WMF Executive Director Bonnie Burnham, and Jewish Heritage Council Chairman Hon. Ronald S. Lauder have all enthusiastically provided financial and conceptual support. WMF staff members Rebecca Anderson, Daniel Burke, John Stubbs, and Fritzie Wood all provided assistance for the project. Special thanks to Michael Briggs who designed the computer program and Michal Friedlander, Susan Reisler, and Felicia Mayro who helped develop the computer program and entered data. Felicia Mayro and Diana Turnbow have been indispensable in analyzing and collating the information in the report, and helping with its production.

This report is co-authored by Samuel Gruber, who directed this project, and Phyllis Myers, who served as senior research consultant. Dr. Gruber is primarily responsible for the design of the survey instrument (questionnaire) and interpretation of the results, and wrote sections I through III utilizing texts provided throughout the survey by Eleonora Bergman and Jan Jagielski. Phyllis Myers helped conceptualize the questionnaire and interpret the results, and authored Section IV, on historic preservation law. Ms. Bergman also contributed importantly to this section, which was reviewed by Jakub Wolski, Counselor of the Polish Embassy in Washington, D.C., and Susan Casey-Lefkowitz of the Environmental Law Institute. A grant from the Trust for Mutual Understanding to Ms. Myers for a project on historic preservation law in Central and Eastern Europe, sponsored by the Environmental Law Institute, funded a March 1995 research visit to Poland.

Eleonora Bergman and Jan Jagielski compiled Appendix I, a list of all known extant synagogue buildings in Poland. Felicia Mayro and Diana Turnbow compiled Appendix II, a list of 1008 of the Polish cemeteries surveyed.

Samuel Gruber and Phyllis Myers



An estimated four out of five American Jews trace their ancestry to pre-World War II Poland, which included within its boundaries much of present day Lithuania, Belarus, and Ukraine. Three and a half million Jews lived there before the outbreak of World War II - the greatest concentration of Jewish population in Europe. At the war's end, approximately 100,000 Jews remained, but the toll of privation, anti-Semitism, and death among the elderly reduced that number to about 10,000 within modern Polish boundaries.

Of the once vast number of cemeteries, synagogues, communal buildings and other significant sites associated with the distinctive cultural and spiritual center of Judaism in Poland - arguably the most important of its kind in Europe - only a small number today are recognizable for what they once were. The Nazi destruction of Jewish buildings and cemeteries with the goal of eradicating every trace of Jewish existence was followed by a half century of neglect of most of the places that managed to survive. Despite recent profound and welcome change in the valuation of these sites as significant to Polish-Jewish history, an enormous task lies ahead to halt and reverse deterioration, and to correct the effects of mindless and inappropriate change.

  1. Cemeteries
  2. TableofContents

    The World Monuments Fund survey for the United States Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad identified 1008 Jewish cemeteries within the territory of present day Poland. Of these, 855 had been visited and described by the survey team by the spring of 1995. Information on these 855 cemeteries was tabulated for this report. Partial information on an additional 143 cemeteries is included in Appendix III.

    Of the 1008, 487 have at least one gravestone (Hebrew: matzevah) surviving: of these, 134 have between 20 and 100 gravestones; 83 have between 100 and 500 gravestones; 37 cemeteries, including those at Biala, Sieniawa, Przemysl (II), and Szydlowiec, have between 500 and 5,000 remaining gravestones. Seven cemeteries - in Bialystok, Krakow, Lodz, Warsaw (2), and Wroclaw (2) - have over 5,000 in situ gravestones.

    For the 855 cemeteries, site researchers catalogued a variety of threats, from overgrown vegetation and erosion to vandalism, pollution, and nearby development. Serious risk of vandalism was found at 98 cemeteries, while 114 were considered at risk from pollution, and 235 from such existing or planned development as offices, schools, stadiums, bus stations, or warehouses. Only 190 cemeteries were totally enclosed by a wall or fence and 399 sites remain used only as Jewish cemeteries (although there are few if any new burials); 303 sites are used for agricultural (usually grazing) or recreational purposes, 96 for industrial or commercial sites, and 72 for waste dumps. Approximately a dozen cemeteries are located in communities where more than ten people are identified as Jewish. Bereft of their rightful Jewish guardians in the community, deserted cemeteries suffered from considerable neglect and vandalism after the end of World War II and through the 1970s.

    From the 1980s on, some restoration work began, much initiated by the private Citizens' Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Monuments, based in Warsaw, or by Holocaust survivors living abroad. By the end of the 1980s the pace of work had accelerated, but conditions at only a small number of cemeteries had been improved. The Citizens' Committee has been most active at the Okopowa Street Cemetery in Warsaw, where trees and bushes have been cut down in some sections and gravestones and larger funerary monuments restored. The most important one, of Ber Sonnenberg, however, was recently burnt by local teenagers. The overall effect of clearing in the cemetery is not very visible because the cemetery covers 33 hectares and includes about 200,000 gravestones and monuments. Without clearing, however, parts of the cemetery would be impassable. Outside Warsaw the group set upright about fifty gravestones dating from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries at the old cemetery in Lublin. Some of these have already been vandalized again. Restored gravestones in Wroclaw were vandalized in March 1992.

    Jewish groups, private foundations, individuals living abroad, and local citizens have initiated some restoration work. In Opatow, about twenty monuments were retrieved from the river, where they had been thrown after the war, and set up on the unused part of the cemetery. In Pinczow fragments of old gravestones were used in post-war construction but have been recently rescued from ruined buildings and set into the wall surrounding an old synagogue, as has also been done at the old Jewish cemetery in Krakow. In Kozmin, school children re-erected about 150 gravestones and constructed an enclosure.

    Clearing, fencing, and restoration work has been carried out at the cemeteries of Bilgoraj, Bransk, Buk, Chrzanow, Dabrowa Tarnowska, Dabrowa Bialostocka, Dzialoszyce, Hrubieszow, Kazimierza Wielka, Kielce, Kolbuszowa, Krosno, Laskarzew, Lomza, Lubaczow, Makow Mazowiecki, Nidzica, Oswiecim, Przasnysz, Sanok, Siedlece, Slubice, Sochaczew, Staszow, Tarnogrod, Tarnow, Trzebinia, Tyszowce, Warsaw (Praga cemetery), Wisnicz, Zabrze, and elsewhere. Most of this work has been initiated or financed by private individuals or organizations, usually Jewish survivors from these towns who now live elsewhere.

    The vast majority of Jewish cemeteries in Poland, which remain abandoned and neglected, without clearly marked boundaries or descriptive or commemorative markers, are subject to natural deterioration, theft, vandalism, and incompatible land development. Many have already been encroached upon for industrial, agricultural, residential, or recreational use.

    A list at the end of this report summarizes the condition of each cemetery at the time it was surveyed and an assessment of threats as reported by site researchers for the survey.

    It should be noted that nine death camp/concentration camp sites in Poland are marked by memorials and museums. These are Belzec, Chelmno, Krakow-Plaszow, Majdanek, Oswiecim-Brzezinka (German: Auschwitz-Birkenau), Rogoznica (German: Gross-Rosen), Sobibor, Sztutowo (German: Stutthof), and Treblinka II. By Polish law, all of these sites are historic monuments, as are all official Polish war cemeteries. Much work is now underway by Polish and international individuals, committees, agencies, organizations and institutions to preserve and interpret these sites. While these places of martyrdom are of great importance to Jewish and Polish history, this survey of Jewish sites has concentrated on the fate of places established and used by Jews before the Holocaust.

    There are also, throughout Poland, scores of sites of deportations, executions, massacres and mass burials of Jews, only a few of which are marked and/or designated historic sites. The vast majority of Jewish cemeteries that were sites of executions and mass burials of Jews during World War II have not yet been given monument status by the Polish government.


  3. Synagogues
  4. TableofContents

    Despite the enormous destruction brought about by World War I, the preservation of synagogues and other significant Jewish community buildings was relatively good in the period up to World War II. It is estimated that there were thousands of such buildings, including community synagogues, houses of study, synagogues of guilds and brotherhoods, stiebls of Hasidim, etc.

    World War II and the post-war period radically changed this situation. Approximately 300 former synagogue buildings are extant within the territory of present-day Poland. Although these represent only a small fraction of what existed before the war, they remain an essential reminder of the once-large Jewish presence, the legacy of a thousand years of Jewish and Polish culture and history. During the war virtually all remaining wooden synagogues were burned down or destroyed. Only three very small and simple examples are known to survive: in Szumowo, Wisniowa, and Punsk. A

    larger number of synagogues survive in some form, if buildings that still exist outside modern Poland's boundaries - in Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine, which were formerly an integral part of area of Polish Jewish settlement - are added. Many of these structures outside of Poland still need to be identified, and almost all need to be documented and protected.

    Of the synagogue buildings within modern Poland, only a few - in Warsaw, Krakow and Lodz - are still used for Jewish worship and owned by the Jewish Community. A small number have been restored as local museums, some with exhibits about Jewish history; these include synagogues in Krakow, Tykocin, Lancut, Leczna and Wlodawa. Some synagogues have also been converted into archives, libraries, and galleries. Only on occasion are significant identifying elements of the synagogues retained; such examples include the synagogues at Barczewo, Kolbuszowa, Leczna, Mosina, Nowy Sacz, Czudec, Inowlodz, Jaroslaw, Niebylec, Piotrkow Trybunalski, Przemysl, Strzyzow, Sroda Wielkopolska, Tarnobrzeg, Ustrzyki Dolne, Rzeszow, and Zamosc.

    Elsewhere, synagogues have been used as cultural centers or cultural clubs such as at Biecz, Chelm, Lubraniec, Modliborzyce, Praszka, Sejny, Siemiatycze, Sokolow Malopolski, Susz, Szadek, Szczebrzeszyn, and Szydlow (but now vacant). Another two dozen synagogues are used as cinemas. Few of these are publicly identified as former synagogues, and rarely is information provided on the history of the building or the vanished congregation.

    More often, synagogue buildings serve utilitarian uses - most often as storehouses, but also as garages, barns, shops, etc. Despite a noticeable rise in the interest of young people in some aspects of Jewish history, today's post-war generation is generally ignorant of the original uses of these sites and, by extension, the historical presence of Jews, their contribution to local history, and their fate.

    Throughout the country at least two dozen synagogue structures of exceptional architectural distinction remain as ruins, either abandoned or used as warehouses or workshops. They include Bierutow, Dukla, Dzialoszyce, Klimontow, Krasnik, Krzepice, Mstow, Nowy Korczyn, Orla,

    Pinczow, Przysucha, Radoszyce, Rymanow, Tarlow, Wodzislaw, and Wroclaw. Reconstruction plans by municipal and regional authorities have been developed for a few of these structures, but in almost every case there is no money available to carry out the work. In at least two cases, however - Chmielnik and Kepno - new roofs have recently been constructed for the synagogue buildings.

    While all of these buildings should be protected and conserved, restoration may not always be the practical or appropriate solution. The stabilization and protection of historic ruins - as distinct from restoration - so prevalent in countries with remains of ancient buildings, is a little-used approach in Poland. The oldest Polish buildings were constructed of wood, and few survive. Stone buildings have either been rebuilt - restored or adapted - or remain ruins awaiting rebuilding. There are a few exceptions to this rule, but in only one case have the ruins of a synagogue been conserved and protected. In Tarnow, the four brick columns of the bimah of the synagogue still stand, covered by a protected canopy and set in a small public park. Other dramatic ruins, such as those at Rymanow and Dzialoszyce, continue to deteriorate.

  5. Historic Preservation Law


Until recently, Poland's comprehensive historic preservation law has not been equitably or consistently applied to landmarks of Jewish culture and history. This is the result of both traditional preservation values which emphasized nationalism and downgraded smaller buildings and vernacular neighborhoods of recent vintage, and Communist ideology's hostility to ethnic and religious differences.

Preservation of the decimated remains of the physical legacy of centuries of Jewish settlement depend on an expanded view of the country's multicultural and multi-religious history as well as the successful transformation of Poland's monuments and planning laws to respond to post-Communist changes in local authority, private property, the market-driven economy, and values.

Support for designating Jewish monuments is growing. In the more open atmosphere since the late 1980s, listings of synagogues and cemeteries, as well as restoration plans, have increased. While approximately a hundred synagogues and about 172 cemeteries are now registered monuments, listings continue to underrepresent the Jewish architectural/historic legacy and reflect ad hoc interest and advocacy rather than systematic documentation and a clearly articulated larger view of the national patrimony.

Moreover, although the system is more open to listing and nominations of Jewish monuments, the results on the ground are not yet that apparent, since public subsidies are scarce and investment strategies adapted to the market economy are still evolving. There are commendable exceptions of growing municipal support for synagogue restoration in Krakow and other communities which are focusing on their multi-dimensional historic character as a central element in revitalization and economic development.

Specific recommendations for improvement include expansion of the definition of national patrimony, training of voivodship conservators - the linchpin in Poland's monuments protection system, clearer linkages of monuments protection decisions to planning and development, nurturing of grassroots citizen and professional groups, and funding and incentives to guide sensitive reinvestment for authenticity in revitalization of historic centers


  1. Jewish Heritage in Poland before the Holocaust


Until the outbreak of the World War II, Poland was the largest center of Jewish culture and spiritual life in Europe. Of the four and a half million Jews who perished on Polish soil during the Holocaust, almost three million were Polish Jews. About 10,000 Jews live in present day Poland, primarily in Warsaw, Krakow, Lodz, and Lublin.

Records of Jewish life in Poland are as old as the state itself; in the tenth century Jews first arrived in Poland as itinerant merchants, and the oldest records of permanent Jewish settlements date to the late eleventh century. During the Crusades, and during subsequent periods of insecurity and persecution in Western Europe, Jews migrated to Poland from Germany, Bohemia, Hungary, and also from Spain and Portugal. In 1264 Boleslaus the Pious, Duke of Wielkopolska (Greater Poland), granted Jews separate privileges called the Kalisz Statutes which became a legal basis of their existence in Poland. The privileges were extended by King Casimir the Great and then by subsequent Polish rulers. Thus, the Jewish population enjoyed the rights of religious autonomy. Jewish communities dealt independently with most issues of everyday life, including religious, social and economic concerns. In the sixteenth century a Jewish parliamentary body was established in Lublin which became a representative body for Polish and Lithuanian Jewry. Jews were taxed heavily, not allowed to serve in the military, and lived in specified areas of towns.

World renowned Talmudic academies flourished throughout Poland and rabbinical literature thrived. Secular knowledge, including medicine, mathematics, and astronomy were also pursued. The development of non-religious learning was championed by the Jewish Enlightenment Movement (Haskalah) which promoted emancipation and assimilation in Jewish cultural and social life but did not, however, reject all tradition or oppose religion.

Hasidism was initiated in the eastern part of the Commonwealth in the eighteenth century by Israel ben Eliezer (Baal Shem Tov), and quickly spread throughout Poland. This popular movement centered around the courts of charismatic rabbis (tzaddikim). It developed in part due to the insecurity which had prevailed since the devastating massacres carried out by Chmielnicki and his followers in 1648. Assimilative tendencies persisted throughout the nineteenth century, but by the end of the century Zionism had become another major force among non-religious Jews. Jewish political parties and a strong labor movement appeared and continued their activities during the inter-war period when numerous Jewish social and political organizations were active. The nineteenth and twentieth centuries witnessed the development and highest achievements of Yiddish literature.

Even before the Holocaust, however, many scholars recognized that much of the material Jewish heritage of Poland was in danger of being lost. By the twentieth century scholars had become interested in the cemeteries, which are a source of information about Jewish history, culture, and art. In Wroclaw matzevoth were found from the twelfth to fourteenth centuries. These are the oldest known Jewish gravestones in Poland. In Lublin, Szczebrzeszyn, and Krakow scholars studied stones from the sixteenth century.

In Lwow (now Lviv, Ukraine) Majer Balaban wrote in 1924 that "we still have time to save our relics but if we do not do it right now, if we do not start this job at once, everything our fathers were, for nine centuries will perish utterly." Balaban and others initiated efforts to record information, to photograph Jewish sites and to transcribe inscriptions from cemeteries. He could not foresee that in twenty years, the Nazi's "Final Solution" would extirpate the Jews living in Poland and the cemeteries would become the only material proof of their long inhabitance.

These scholars, and contemporary photographers such as Roman Vishniac, saw a world destined to change, if not disappear. Modernism, industrialism, and new religious and political movements were all affecting the traditional Jewish world. Already, before 1939, the world that many of the famous Yiddish writers were recording was already history.

The most exhaustive effort to record Jewish monuments was an inventory of synagogues begun in 1923 by the Institute of Polish Architecture of the Polytechnic of Warsaw under the direction of Szymon Zajczyk. Zajczyk took thousands of photographs of Polish Judaica and synagogues, and prepared detailed descriptions. Architects from the Institute of Polish Architecture took hundreds of accurate measurements of synagogues, and copies were made of the polychrome decorations. The primary sponsors of the project were killed during the war and much of the material gathered was destroyed when the Germans burnt the Institute of Architecture in 1944. However, some material was saved, and this forms the basis of our information about Polish synagogues before the Holocaust. Since the 1950s Polish architects Maria and Kazimierz Piechotka have worked to identify, interpret, and present this material.

In an article written in 1933, Zajczyk was still able to write "the historical material of Poland in this field is, in comparison to the rest of Eastern and Central Europe, unusually rich and interesting. It has the important property of supplying us with a collection of the historically valuable structures without any interruption in time. From the late Middle Ages to the most recent times we can trace in Poland the development of types of synagogues."

Even in 1933, despite the enormous destruction and loss brought about by the First World War, the many synagogues and other Jewish communal buildings were relatively well preserved. In Warsaw alone, apart from the Great Synagogue at Tlomackie Street and the synagogues at Twarda Street (including the surviving Nozyk Synagogue) and at Praga, there were over four hundred prayer-rooms in private houses. Elsewhere the situation was similar. In small Oswiecim, Zajczyk reported there were over twenty. There would have been many more, since Zajczyk did not include all the houses of study, synagogues of guilds and brotherhoods, and stiebls of Hasidim, especially those built in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, which were not viewed as of great architectural interest.

According to the historian David Dawidowicz, one of the first to attempt documentation of the artistic and architectural heritage destroyed during the Holocaust, "among the factors causing reverence for objective artistic values which helped preserve important artistic monuments, first and foremost were the religious, national and cultural freedom and the latitude permitted Polish Jewry in economic affairs up till about the middle of the seventeenth century. Polish Jewry did not suffer the pogroms and persecution to the same extent as Jewish communities in the West, where numerous communities were annihilated and their art destroyed. The veneration felt by the Jews for their ancient monuments was expressed in the outstanding care they took of their artistic possessions, restoring and embellishing them when nature and pogroms had taken their toll. It was also expressed in the development of their ancient tradition, the rich literature and folklore which had been woven around the monuments by numerous generations. All this provided a constructive factor of reverence which resulted in the preservation of many historical monuments."


  1. The Destruction of Jewish Heritage During World War II
  2. TableofContents

    Near the center of the small Polish town of Dzialoszyce, about halfway between Krakow and Kielce, one finds a magnificent ruin - all that remains of a large neo-classical synagogue that was the pride of the town's 7,000 Jews (70% of the population in 1939). The synagogue, designed by Felicjan Frankowski to replace an earlier wooden synagogue, was built in 1852 for a town that was the center of the leather and fur trade, and where brickworks and the clothing industry flourished. Prosperity ended when the Germans invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. First the town population swelled, as Jews from other towns were forcibly relocated there. Then, on September 2, 1942, all Jews were rounded up for deportation. Some fought back, and over 2,000 were quickly slaughtered and thrown into mass graves near the Jewish cemetery. Some 8,000 people were taken to the death camp at Belzec. An elderly villager worked for the rabbi when she was a girl. She recounted that "I will never forget what he told me. He said that when the birds go away from here, the Jews will go away, too. One year there was a hard winter; there were no birds. And after that the Jews were taken away."

    The synagogue interior was gutted during this period. After the war, the site was abandoned, except for a time when it served as a warehouse. The roof, however, remained intact until 1984 when it finally collapsed due to years of neglect. Today, despite claims from local conservators that they would like to restore the building, it continues to deteriorate. The only new construction is a monument dedicated in 1990 at the cemetery site by one of the town's few Jewish survivors. The story of this synagogue, and its town, is common throughout Poland. The physical heritage of Polish Jewish culture is scattered and broken.

    The Holocaust turned upside down the world which Balaban, Zajczyk, and others had studied. All the wooden synagogues were destroyed except some modest small-town synagogues which survived because their size and form did not differ from neighboring homes. The loss of masonry synagogues was also extensive. Even when the buildings survive, they are now ruins or have been rebuilt with their original form and function drastically changed. Many have been devastated, and almost all have lost their interior furniture and fittings.

    The systematic destruction of physical traces of Jewish culture accompanied the virtual extinction of the Jewish communities. Historian Lucy Dawidowicz wrote that the Nazis "destroyed irreplaceable cultural treasures and historical documents as recklessly and ruthlessly as they murdered people." Most of the documentary, religious, cultural, architectural, and artistic records of the Jewish people in these regions was destroyed and is now lost forever. Though many reasons have been given for the origins of World War II, the execution of the war was firmly rooted in the Nazi desire to eradicate Jewish life. As part of this policy, Jewish monuments and cultural sites were deliberately targeted.

    In the fall and winter of 1939 the German army expelled tens of thousands of Jews from hundreds of small towns, forcing them to flee to a few larger cities, where ghettos were established. Upon entering a new town the Germans burned the synagogues. In Poland this destruction of synagogues was also often the occasion of mass murder. In acts that magnify the massacres of the Middle Ages in Germany and England, Jews were herded into synagogues which were then set afire. In Bialystok, this is how several thousand of the city's Jews and the Great Synagogue met their fate. A small plaque on the new building which occupies the site records the event. In a few other places, such as Bedzin, commemorative plaques have recently been erected.


  3. The Fate of Jewish Heritage Under Communism


Only about 300,000 Polish Jews (10% of the prewar population) survived World War II. After the pogrom in Kielce in July 1946 (when Jews who had returned to their town were attacked by their neighbors, leaving 43 dead and 50 injured) and other acts of anti-semitism in Poland, by 1949 only 100,000 people remained, as many quickly emigrated. In Poland today about 10,000, mostly elderly, Jews remain.

Under Communism, Jewish heritage was virtually ignored. With the exception of a few much publicized efforts - such as the Yiddish Theater in Warsaw and the synagogue in Tykocin - Jewish culture, including art and architecture, were neglected. Many markers and memorials erected in the immediate post-war period were even removed during the anti-semitic purges of 1968. Very slowly, during the 1970s, attention was given to a few historic buildings. For the most part, however, it was only in the aftermath of the Solidarity movement in 1980 that serious efforts were made to identify, protect, and restore Jewish sites, and these were too few and poorly funded. In the 1990s, the new democratic Polish government appears to be taking a keen interest in the protection of Jewish sites. Economic problems, however, preclude the spending of significant funds.



  1. Why Was it Undertaken
  2. TableofContents

    This report, the first in a series funded by the United States Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad focusing on countries of Central and Eastern Europe, presents the results of a survey of Jewish sites in Poland. It includes information about 1008 cemeteries and 278 buildings that are or were synagogues.

    The survey was undertaken by the Commission to encourage government and private strategies to protect and preserve the endangered historic and cultural legacy of the many Americans whose forbears are traced to this part of the world. The survey provides systematically collected and organized data, heretofore unavailable, about the location of these sites, their current condition, ownership, and other significant indicators.

    The project is especially timely given the opportunities presented by the dissolution of Communist rule. These include revitalized leadership in the Jewish communities, rising interest in addressing Jewish issues and shared culture, pending revisions of landmark laws to reflect changing preservation philosophy and governmental administration, increased collaboration with professional experts and organizations abroad, and tourism.

    The lessons learned from this project and the methods developed in this work, including the design of a computer database, can now be successfully applied to other countries, particularly the former Soviet Republics, to continue this important work. All of this information will serve as a permanent record of previously undocumented historic places and also provide the foundation for coherent preservation planning and decisive steps to ensure the protection and restoration of sites.


  3. Scope and Methodology
    1. Organization


The survey was organized in New York and conducted from Warsaw. It was coordinated by esteemed Polish scholars and employed field researchers from throughout Poland. A comprehensive questionnaire for cemeteries, prepared by the World Monuments Fund in consultation with the Commission and the Polish survey coordinators, asked over 75 questions about the history, location, topography, ownership, condition, care, use, and visitation of the cemetery sites and other significant indicators. Though the focus of the work was on collecting information on current site conditions, other information regarding history, appearance, and maintenance was assembled when possible. The results provide heretofore unavailable information about hundreds of individual sites and also important comparative material. The database also permits information to be statistically analyzed, and to isolate the most common and serious problems and the areas where these predominate. A special priority is placed on developing a comprehensive inventory of cemeteries and monuments whose abuse and desecration have especially tragic implications.


    1. Computerization
    2. TableofContents

      A computer database for this project was specially designed by Michael Briggs, modifying existing FoxPro software. The program can present information on specific sites on screen or as a printout, or translate the data to WordPerfect files. The database program can also search for information following the organization of the survey questionnaire. The goal of the design has been ease of information entry, flexibility in information retrieval, adaptability, and easy installation for personal computer use. A master database is now maintained at the office of the United States Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad for data entry. It is important that the database be maintained and regularly updated; otherwise, much of its information will become obsolete in a few years.


    3. Photography
    4. TableofContents

      Photography has been an ongoing part of the site visitation process. Several hundred sites have been photographed, but complete photographic documentation of buildings and cemeteries has not been a priority of the survey for budgetary limitations discussed in the initial project proposal. Country coordinators have made accessible their own collections of site photographs, many showing sites as they were before recent deterioration, neglect, or vandalism.

    5. Conclusion


The organization of this survey has been a complicated and unpredictable enterprise. The identification of many more sites than anticipated has added to the importance of the effort, but also to its complexity. Continuing changes in governmental structure, particularly on the local level, have added to logistical problems. Because of the length of the cemetery survey questionnaire and the differing backgrounds, training, and cultural sensibilities of field researchers, review of each completed survey form and correct entry of the information into the database has taken longer than anticipated. Despite these challenges, however, the survey has been enormously successful in pulling together a vast amount of material, much of it previously unknown, within a relatively small budget.



  1. Survivors: Cemeteries
  2. TableofContents

    Cemeteries dot the landscape of Poland, though ravaged by war, vandals, scavengers, and time.

    For Jews the care of cemeteries is an essential religious and social responsibility. The Talmudic saying "the Jewish gravestones are fairer than royal palaces" (Sanh. 96b; cf. Matt. 23:29) reflects the care that is expected to be given to Jewish graves and cemeteries. In normal circumstances, the protection and repair of cemeteries is willingly shared by the Jewish community.

    Before the Holocaust, Jewish cemeteries belonged to individual Jewish communities. Even at the height of Jewish emigration to America, family members and landsmanshaftn stayed behind to insure care for the graves of the dead. Jewish religious law stipulates that cemeteries be carefully delimited, and walls and fences were erected to prevent the desecration of cemetery grounds and the defilement of the religious Jews, who could only come in contact with the dead under certain conditions. The Holocaust destroyed all normal circumstances.

    In 1939, official Polish sources listed 1,415 Jewish communities with populations of more than a hundred Jews within the pre-war territory of Poland. Most if not all of these had one or more cemeteries. A large number were destroyed by the Germans, but traces of many survive. In 1979 the Warsaw-based Office for Religious Denominations (part of the Office of the Council of Ministers) compiled a list of 434 Jewish cemeteries in Poland. Of these, it was stated that only 22 were in relatively good condition, that 68 had been more than 50% destroyed during the war, 136 had been more than 90% destroyed, that 136 revealed only traces of the original burial grounds and 129 cemeteries were practically non-existent.

    The World Monuments Fund survey for the United States Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad has surveyed 1008 Jewish cemetery sites within the present-day borders of Poland. Without doubt there are more. This total includes large cemeteries with tens of thousands of graves (Warsaw, Krakow, Lodz, and Wroclaw, for example), hundreds of smaller cemeteries with a few score to a thousand gravestones, and the majority of sites with no visible gravestones. About 400 cemeteries have gravestones, but only 140 have a significant number - that is, more than 100 monuments. Significantly, a large number of cemeteries have been built over for new purposes. Offices, schools, stadiums, bus stations, or warehouses have been built upon 130 cemeteries.

    Hundreds of cemeteries, especially small burial plots, were either deliberately liquidated - bulldozed or built over - during World War II and the years since, and memory of their locations vanished with the communities that used to look after them.


    1. Types of Jewish Cemeteries
    2. TableofContents

      The appearance of Jewish cemeteries in various parts of prewar Poland differed, depending on local tradition and circumstance. The customs of each region reflect the laws and traditions of Austria, Prussia and Russia, which from 1795 to 1918 divided and occupied Poland. Gravestones dating from before 1800 have been found at only about 60 cemeteries.

      The majority of Jewish cemeteries, located in and near small towns, were surrounded by rough wooden fences or an earthen bank. Graves could usually be placed where people wanted, though separation of men, women and children was maintained. Graves were marked by matzevot, either of stone or wood. These could take many forms. Some were rough boulder-like stones, smoothed on only one face, with a simple inscription. Other gravestones were finely carved with elaborate symbolic representations, usually referring to the name, occupation or reputation of the deceased. These carved gravestones were often tall and narrow, with rounded tops. Long inscriptions filled most of the stone, and decorative reliefs were placed in the semi-circular top. Most inscriptions, which face east, were in Hebrew, and in the twentieth century sometimes in Yiddish, Polish, or German. Local stone were usually used for matzevot, and these were often not durable and crumbled quickly. Both gravestones and wooden markers were often painted in many colors.

      In many Jewish cemeteries, eminent members of the community, especially esteemed rabbis and scholars, were given more prominent gravestones. This often took the form of an ohel (tent, in Hebrew), or covered enclosure, to protect the grave. The erection of ohels was particularly prevalent in Hasidic communities where revered tzaddikim were buried. These graves were, and often continue to be, the focus of annual pilgrimages by devout Jews.

      In big towns and cities there was more variety in the way cemeteries were arranged and in the types of gravestones. Cities had larger and more diverse Jewish communities, including assimilated and Reform communities.

      Large urban cemeteries such as those in Warsaw, Lodz, Bialystok, and Krakow have generally fared better than secluded cemeteries in rural areas. The size alone of some of the urban cemeteries (some of which have several hundred thousand graves) prevented total destruction. Though subject to regular vandalism and abuse, these sites are still impressive for the number of gravestones and tomb monuments which survive.

      Urban Jewish communities were more susceptible to Christian influence in art and architecture, and a number of the gravestones and mausolea from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in the cemeteries in Warsaw, Lodz, Bialystok, and Krakow reflect contemporary artistic trends rather than traditional Jewish folk motifs. Urban cemeteries tended to include more lavish tombs, since in every urban community there were families and individuals of substantial wealth and power whose prestige is manifest in the cemetery designs they chose.

      This was particularly true in Prussia, where Jews in the nineteenth century tried, just as their Protestant and Catholic neighbors did, to give their cemeteries an appropriately dignified appearance. At each cemetery, this called for a solid enclosure, a large mortuary and well marked sections with regular lanes planted with decorative trees and bushes. Gravestones were made of lasting materials including marble or granite. Their style was often very different from traditional matzevot, and mirrored secular tastes and styles. Because so many German Jews were influenced by the Jewish Reform movement, inscriptions were often in German as well as Hebrew. German inscriptions were often placed on the reverse side of the Hebrew inscription.


    3. Care and Restoration of Jewish Cemeteries


After World War II, cemeteries that had been maintained by close-knit communities for generations were left to deteriorate. Already overturned and broken gravestones were left to suffer from the weather, to sink further into sand, and to be covered by vegetation. Immediately after the war returning survivors often erected memorials out of broken gravestones, such as at Lodz, Lukow, Myslenice, Siedlce, and Sandomierz. In the words of historian James Young, "by turning to the only materials available - broken bits of matzevot and mortar - survivors and community volunteers in Krakow and Warsaw did not restore the sites of remembrance so much as they created new ones, formalizing their destruction."

In a few instances, local officials helped in this process, as at Oswiecim (Auschwitz) where, according to Rabbi Asher Scharf, gravestones that had been vandalized and removed, including many which had been used for paving stones, were gathered together and used to "make a sort of fence so that there should be no entrance by the horse and cattle onto the Cemetery. The ohel of my great-great-grandfather was destroyed, but the iron fence around the grave was still intact." It was only years later, when Pope John Paul II visited Oswiecim that the perimeter wall of gravestones was dismantled and a new fence and gate was constructed. Generally, abandoned cemeteries, like so much property in Poland, became state property, though the circumstances of this transfer remain unclear. With few Jews left, and Jewish communities abroad pressed by other worries, few individuals expressed concern. The Jewish past was not considered important by Communist officials. In some places "anti-Semitism without Jews" became the implicit policy, so that even talk of protecting Jewish sites was politically suspect.

Today, a relatively small number of Jewish cemeteries in Poland are formally in the care of the Union of Jewish Communities (Zwiazek Gmin Zydowskich), but the small Polish Jewish Community has neither the manpower nor the funds to survey the cemeteries, let alone to preserve them. In 1974 the Religious Union of Mosaic Faith (the predecessor of the Union of Jewish Communites) owned 70 cemeteries, and by 1981 it owned only 47. Those that they own are not necessarily in good condition.

The long-standing neglect of cemeteries, as well as the disregard manifested by the dumping of garbage, the removal of sand, and the building of houses, all of which caused profanation of mortal remains, generated protests by Jews living abroad as information became more readily available. Protests helped stop overt desecration but have not yet led to significant protection and maintenance of cemeteries.

In the 1970s a social movement developed, mostly among the intelligentsia, which aimed to save Jewish monuments. Out of this growing interest and the more liberal climate which accompanied the growth of the Solidarity movement, the Citizens' Committee for the Protection of Jewish Cemeteries and Cultural Monuments in Poland, whose members are both Jews and Christians, was founded in 1981. The Citizens' Committee cooperates with the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, the Institute of Art of the Polish Academy of Sciences, and the Religious Union of the Mosaic Faith. Members of the Citizens' Committee have carried out much of the survey work for the World Monuments Fund project.

In an important pronouncement in 1976, Poland's Department of Religion responded to the concerns of the Rabbinical Committee for Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries by informing the regional conservation offices in Poland that, according to the laws of the Jewish religion, the ground of Jewish cemeteries remains sacred land forever, and cannot serve another purpose.

A change in a law of January 31, 1959 concerning cemeteries and burying the dead was passed on June 14, 1991, and added the following regulations to paragraph 6, section b:

2. If the cemetery area is or was previously the property of the Catholic Church or any other church or denominational association, the decision on use of the cemetery area for any other purpose [other than as a cemetery] requires the agreement of the appropriate authority of this church or denominational association.

3. The decision on the use of a cemetery area which was previously the denominational cemetery of the Catholic Church or any other church or denominational association, for any other purpose, is declared after consulting opinion of the appropriate authority of this church or denominational association concerning the marking and commemorating of the former cemetery area...

The following was added to section d:

In cases justified by particular public reasons the authority with jurisdiction over the cemetery location may apply to the Minister of the Land Development and Construction for release from the requirement of obtaining the agreement mentioned in point 2 [above].

While the first changes in the law demonstrate concern for retaining the physical and spiritual integrity of cemeteries, including but not specifically Jewish cemeteries, the last amendment allows local authorities the option of making changes after proper review. Since local governments are now elected, and pursue policies with more independence than in Communist years, it is important to monitor the effect of this change, and increase vigilance in local planning decisions.

The Citizens' Committee has fostered local efforts to protect and restore Jewish cemeteries. Although small efforts for the most part, they do demonstrate a sensitivity and willingness to help by many Christian Poles. Restoration projects carried out by the Citizens' Committee and other similar local groups, such as those involved in the Jewish cemeteries in Warsaw and Lublin, were planned in coordination with local conservation authorities.

The 1983 publication of Time of Stones, by Committee member Monika Krajewska, helped bring the condition of Polish Jewish cemeteries to greater international attention. For the first time a wide public saw the sad beauty of the remains of Jewish cemeteries, and was alerted to the dangers they face. Krajewska's photographic archive of Polish cemeteries, the largest known collection, can be consulted at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York and the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People, Givat Ram, Jerusalem.

Polish government funds have been provided by the conservator of Warsaw and the Polish Lottery Monopoly. The Citizens' Committee raised about $10,000 from private donors in Poland and abroad between 1981 and 1990, but this sum was sufficient to save only a small number of monuments. The work of the Citizens' Committee, now encouraged by the freer political climate in Poland, has sparked a number of cemetery preservation efforts by local groups.

Abandoned cemeteries in areas where there are no longer Jews are nominally cared for by the regional Conservators' office, under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Culture. Some conservation offices, such as those of Warsaw, Krakow, Bialystok, Kielce, and Wroclaw have begun to document these cemeteries. In the Bialystok region, for example, the regional Conservator compiled information on 37 abandoned Jewish cemeteries, but this is only a fraction of what once existed. In the city of Bialystok itself, only one of six cemeteries remains, and this is partially destroyed.

Most regional Conservators' offices do not have the resources either to protect the cemeteries adequately, or to restore them. Several Polish conservation officials told survey staff that when they get money they do what they can, but this rarely exceeds monitoring current conditions. In the present economic crisis, many regional offices can barely manage to keep their offices open.

In addition to the example of Dzialoszyce, already mentioned, there has been in the last decade a vast increase in the number of direct interventions from abroad on behalf of particular cemeteries. This work is usually funded by individual Holocaust survivors and descendants of emigrants from the town, including organized landsmanshaftn organizations in Israel and the United States. Recent work at Jewish cemeteries includes the erection of Holocaust memorials, the repairing or adding of walls and gates, the clearing of overgrowth, and the cleaning and reerecting of gravestones. There are now about 190 cemeteries (many of which have no visible stones) completely surrounded by walls or fences. This work, much of it recent, is just the beginning of what needs to be done.

The results of the survey indicate that some clearing, fencing, and restoration work has been carried out at about one seventh of the sites visited, including the cemeteries of Bielsko-Biala, Bilgoraj, Bransk, Chrzanow, Cieszyn, Dabrowa Tarnowska, Dzialoszyce, Gora Kalwaria, Kazimierza Wielka, Kolbuszowa, Laskarzew, Lomza, Lubaczow, Makow Mazowiecki, Nidzica, Przasnysz, Sanok, Siedlce, Sochaczew, Staszow, Tarnogrod, Tarnow, Trzebinia, Tyszowce, Wisnicz, Wodzislaw, and Zabrze. Private foundations have sponsored the enclosure and clearing of cemeteries in Buk, Czestochowa, Kielce, Krosno, Lublin, Sanok, Slubice, and Warsaw (Praga).

Professional conservation work on endangered matzevot and large commemorative monuments has been undertaken in only a few cities - Warsaw, Krakow, Wroclaw, Radom, and Lodz. The most important historic and artistic work now under restoration is the monument to Ber Sonnenberg in the Okopowa Street cemetery in Warsaw.

Many circumstances are contributing to the surge in cemetery restoration work. First, while such action is still difficult, the new political openness of Poland makes it easier to initiate and carry out projects, and to find local enthusiasts and volunteers to help organize the work and to look after the cemetery when restoration is complete. Second, the greater ease of travel to and within Poland makes many of these cemeteries accessible for the first time. Third, the advancing age of Holocaust survivors is a factor. For many, proper care for the graves of their families and ancestors is a necessary religious, political, and psychological act before death. Finally, the increased interest in genealogy and pre-Communist Polish history (i.e., when Poland had a sizable Jewish population) adds to the numbers of people who support cemetery resotration.

Examples of recent restoration projects, some of which might serve as models for subsequent work include:

i. Voluntary Adoption of Cemeteries by Jewish Survivors Abroad

Dabrowa Bialostocka. This cemetery with stones dating to 1772 has been restored through the efforts of two elderly sisters, Rena Holstein and Lilly Gritz of Silver Spring, Maryland. After a visit in 1987, the sisters vowed to restore the cemetery where generations of their family are buried. Over a five-year period they raised approximately $10,000. A Dabrowa resident, who knew the sisters before 1939, organized and oversaw the work. The boundaries of the cemetery have been marked, the underbrush cleared, 80 stones reset, a new wall built around the cemetery, and a new wrought-iron gate erected. A memorial monument at the cemetery was dedicated in June 1995.

Hrubieszow. The cemetery, desecrated and neglected for years, was to be built over by apartment blocks when in 1983 a former resident of the town, Shalom Greenberg, visited from Israel and took the matter up with the town council. He began gathering fragments of gravestones from around town. Since then about 70 fragments have been located and returned to the cemetery. Several years later, Avram Scher, a former Jew from Hrubieszow now living in Munich, contributed funds for a fence around the cemetery and a monument to the former Jewish community. Stefan Knapp, a Polish emigré living in London, designed the monument. In July 1990 the fenced cemetery and monument were dedicated and a delegation of survivors from Hrubieszow visited their town for the occasion.

Kety. The cemetery was cleared of vegetation, the walls were repaired and broken matzevot were used in a memorial wall, all at the urging of Holocaust survivor and Pennsylvania resident Henry Kanner, who first visited the cemetery in 1988. City officials and the local priest helped with the effort which was financed by Kanner, who also pays for a full-time caretaker. The project, completed in 1992, took one and half years to finish.

Lublin. The New Jewish Cemetery, which had been severely damaged in World War II and was subsequently divided and partially built over by Lenin Street in the 1960s, has a new entrance and is being restored. The cemetery is being maintained through funds from Sara and the Manfred Frenkel Foundation of Antwerp (Belgium).

Oswiecim. Efforts to retrieve stolen gravestones from this cemetery were undertaken immediately following World War II by the local authorities at the urging of returning survivors. A wall of gravestones was then erected around the cemetery lot. This was replaced by a new fence and gate in 1980s, and approximately 1000 gravestones were then piled up on the site. Beginning in 1986 efforts led by Rabbi Asher Scharf of Brooklyn, whose family lived in Oswiecim for generations, resulted in the reerection of gravestones and the rebuilding of a family ohel. Rabbi Scharf describes how difficult it was to undertake such work less than a decade ago: "I don't have to tell you that the whole thing was illegal. Everything belonged to the government. There was no private enterprise. You had to buy cement on the black market and also blocks, sand, roofing paper, etc. But where there is a will there is a way. It took me three years and $20,000 - and four trips to Poland - and mission accomplished."

Warsaw (Praga cemetery). This cemetery, in the Praga section of Warsaw, was the first of many cemetery restoration projects undertaken by the Nissenbaum Family Foundation of Konstanz (Germany). The cemetery, which was established in 1780, was completely devastated during the war. The area has been cleaned and a new monumental pylon gate and memorial have been erected at the entrance to the site.

Staszow. In November 1992 a new Holocaust memorial was dedicated in Staszow, where 5,000 Jews were deported to their deaths in 1942. The cemetery has also been cleared and marked. This was a project taken on by the town under the sponsorship of Jack Goldfarb, a survivor from the town. The dedicatory ceremony, attended by almost four hundred people, was sponsored by the Staszow Cultural Society. A Jewish section was also inaugurated in the Staszow Town Museum.


ii. Restoration by Local Jewish Community

Zawiercie-Kromolow. In 1991-92, the Jewish Community of Katowice undertook the restoration of this historic cemetery, established c. 1750. The site, which covers 2.2 hectares, retains over half of its original gravestones (more than 500 in situ). The cemetery is owned by the Katowice Jewish Community which has paid for a caretaker and repair of the surrounding masonry wall.


iii. Efforts of Local Polish Groups

Grodzisk Mazowiecki. At Grodzisk Mazowiecki, not far from Warsaw, where the condition of the cemetery is typical of many in Poland, a Social Committee for Restoration and Reconstruction of the Jewish Cemetery was founded in 1990. In its own words, the Social Committee is "animated by motives of consolidation and preservation of cultural and spiritual heritage of Polish Jews, with sympathetic backing of both community and authorities..." The conservator of monuments for the Warsaw region carried out a preservation plan of the site, and the Committee built a fence around the site, which unfortunately was reduced from its original size. Much of the impetus for this work comes from the local Agricultural-Trade Cooperative, which now occupies much of the original site of the cemetery. Only about one seventh of the original cemetery survives as unencumbered open space.

Kozmin. The Citizens' Committee helped handicapped school children to set up about 150 gravestones and construct an enclosure. Work was completed in 1992, and additional funds were received from the state-financed Remembrance Foundation.

Lublin. At the old cemetery in Lublin about 50 gravestones dating from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries - some of them unfortunately already broken - were reerected by the local Society for Care of Monuments of Jewish Culture in Lublin with assistance from the Citizens' Committee in Warsaw. These stones, however, are not set in their original locations, but are distributed along a path through the cemetery.

Mlawa. At Mlawa, Germans had forced Jews to shatter gravestones so that the pieces could be used to build the foundations and the square fence posts around a military area, called "New Berlin" which they created about fifteen kms. from the town. A local organization, the "Friends of the Region of Mlawa", developed plans for the erection of a memorial at the cemetery of Mlawa, which a sculptor from Torun designed. The fence piers, which were made of the mortared pieces of matzevot, were to be transported to the cemetery, and to stand as symbolic flames of an enormous menorah. Each pier is about two meters high, and 60 x 60 cm. square. The Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw contacted the Mlawa landmanshaftn in Israel and a model of the project was exhibited in Tel Aviv. No funds, however, were raised, and to date, only seven of ten remaining piers have been removed to the cemetery, and the monument project is in abeyance. Nonetheless, the transferral of the piers was the occasion for a commemoration - a many survivors from Israel returned for the occasion.

Opatow. About 20 matzevot have been retrieved from the river where they had been thrown after the war, and set up on the unoccupied part of the cemetery.

Warsaw. The World War II devastation in the main cemetery of Warsaw, at Okopowa Street, with over 200,000 graves representing two centuries of settlement, and subsequent neglect, have created a critical situation. It has been necessary to cut down overgrown trees and bushes in order to keep working on the preservation of monuments. The results, however, are not very visible, since the cemetery spans 33 hectares. The Citizen's Committee has restored about 150 historic matzevot dating from the beginning of the nineteenth century and a dozen or so monuments made of marble and iron, including the gravestones of Antoni Eisenbaum, Chaim Zelig Slonimski, and Rabbi Ber Meisels. In 1993 restoration was

begun on the artistically important monument to Ber Sonnenberg. The estimated cost for restoring this one tomb is $35,000. Because it has been vandalized several times, some have advocated that the entire monument be removed to a museum and replaced by a replica. If this were to be done, the cost would, of course, considerably increase.


iv. Restoration by Town or Region

Kazimierz Dolny. One of the most effective "restorations" of a Jewish cemetery is in Kazimierz Dolny. In 1983, the broken gravestones removed from the Franciscan monastery which had been used as Gestapo headquarters could not be returned to their original places at the cemetery just outside of town. Townspeople commissioned architect Tadeusz Augustynek to design a memorial that would appropriately place the stones. They have been attached to form a giant memorial wall, 25 meters long and six meters high, on the site of the cemetery. The wall acts not only as a repository for the stones and a commemoration of all those buried in the cemetery, but also serves with dramatic impact as a surrogate headstone for all those Jews from the town (and from elsewhere who were murdered and received no burial at all). A jagged opening in the wall represents the broken lives and rent fabric of the Jewish community, and town of Kazimierz. Monika and Stanilaw Krajewski worked on the project with the architect, first excavating the broken gravestones and then cleaning and sorting them. Stones of men and women were separated, because that was the arrangement in the cemetery. Despite setbacks, the monument was completed in the autumn of 1984. Additional stones were reerected behind the monument, on the wooded cemetery grounds.

Krakow. The old cemetery of Krakow, situated behind the sixteenth-century Remu Synagogue, has been restored, essentially as a lapidarium, since the original locations of the several hundred retrieved stones is unknown. Since 1991, additional work has taken place. Sponsored by the voivodship of Krakow, broken stones are restored with new pieces added, and many stones are receiving metal "hats" to protect them better from the pervasive acid rain which is causing deterioration of the stone. The work has been partly carried out under the auspices of the Project Judaica Foundation (Washington, D.C.) in collaboration with the Jagiellonian University.

Unfortunately, the much larger new cemetery in Krakow, not far away, remains uncared for.

Pinczow. Fragments of old gravestones were rescued from ruined buildings and set into the wall surrounding the former synagogue. There are now buildings on the grounds of the old cemetery.

Tarnow. Led by Adam Bartosz, curator of the State Gypsy Museum in Tarnow, a group of residents has worked to repair the Jewish cemetery, in which several thousand stones, some dating to the seventeenth century, still survive. The surrounding wall and fence have been repaired at town expense, and much of the older section of the cemetery has been cleared of excess vegetation - revealing serious problems of stone erosion and decay. The gate of the cemetery was presented as a gift to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum by President Lech Walesa and a copy, a gift from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, has been installed in its place. About 30% of funds for the cemetery restoration work come from the town and approximately 70% of funds are private donations from abroad. Much basic clearing work still needs to be done in this large cemetery.


  1. Survivors: Synagogues


Many buildings of Jewish origin (including synagogues, Jewish schools and community houses, pre-burial houses, and even whole Jewish quarters) have survived, if only as ruins. Some of these sites are of considerable artistic and historical importance. All, due to their accident of survival, have taken on special significance. They are an important link in the fragile chain of memory of the once great civilization of Jewish Eastern Europe.

With the exception of a few synagogue buildings in major cities, the surviving structures are today largely unknown to the wider public. Usually they remain only partially recorded and are often in extremely deteriorated condition. Former synagogues which survived the war have been converted to almost every kind of use - some as museums and archives, schools and concert halls, but also warehouses, factories, and barns. The current uses of synagogue buildings are listed in Appendix III. While Jewish law forbids only a few specific uses for former synagogues, tradition requires close attention to the care of these sites. Moreover, since most of these synagogues were abandoned not by choice but by force, their current use is an issue not only for Jewish survivors, but for the non-Jewish Polish community. While some former synagogues have been well maintained and serve dignified public needs, many others serve functions that are hardly appropriate. The issue of appropriate use of former religious buildings should be a part of all discussions concerning ownership and restitution of Jewish communal properties.

This report identifies 278 former synagogue buildings within the modern borders of Poland. The number of structures extant in areas once part of Poland - now in Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine - is still to be determined, but it may double the total. Buildings which housed simple prayer rooms, often in storefronts, courtyard room or upstairs apartment, are not included in this survey, though doubtless scores, if not hundreds, of buildings which housed stiebles still exist.

Among the synagogue structures remaining are important examples of late medieval double-nave ynagogues (as in Krakow), Renaissance hall synagogues, (as at Szydlow and Pinczow), bimah-support synagogues (Tykocin, Lancut, Przysucha, and Rymanow), eighteenth and nineteenth century neo-classical synagogues, and a few of the so-called "cathedral" synagogues of the late nineteenth century.

The Citizens' Committee for the Protection and Preservation of Jewish Monuments prepared a preliminary list of these buildings in 1989, and Eleonora Bergman and Jan Jagielski have revised and updated the list as part of this survey (Appendix III). The more architecturally and historically distinctive buildings have been studied in some detail by architects, historians, and planners, particularly Maria and Kazimierz Piechotka of Warsaw.

Approximately 70 former synagogues have been described and photographed by voivodship conservators.

As early as 1960 David Dawidowicz wrote that "it is a sacred duty to rebuild synagogues of artistic and historical value for Jews left in those places, or to turn them into Jewish musuems as memorials to the communities that once existed there and are no longer." Over 30 years later only a few attempts have been made to fulfill Davidovitch's prescription. These efforts are summarized below.


i. Restoration for Religious Use

In the post-War period, only a small number of synagogues have been restored for religious use. These include:

Warsaw: Nozyk Synagogue. Warsaw's only surviving synagogue was founded in 1900. It was used during World War II by the Germans as a stable, and seriously damaged especially during and after the Warsaw uprising of 1944. Crudely refurbished after the war and fully restored in 1977-83, it is now owned by the Jewish Community of Warsaw and is the only functioning synagogue in Poland's capital city.

Krakow: Remu Synagogue. Built in 1553, this is the second oldest synagogue in Krakow. It was thoroughly restored in 1933, and much changed at the time. During World War II the synagogue was looted and stripped of its furnishings. It was reconstructed in 1957 to a close approximation of its sixteenth-century form with some of its eighteenth-century Baroque interior decoration. The project was funded by the Joint Distribution Committee and the Krakow conservation authorities. Today, the Remu remains the property of the Jewish Community of Krakow and continues to be used as a functioning synagogue.

Lodz: Synagogue. The only surviving synagogue in Lodz, built c. 1900, was refurbished beginning in 1986, and is now used for services. Funds for the restoration were provided by the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation of New York.


ii. Restoration as Jewish Museums or Memorials

In a handful of cases, careful restoration of synagogue buildings has preserved much of their original appearance, if not their life and use. The desire to restore these buildings faithfully, the interest in their history, and willingness to use the buildings to present different aspects of Jewish-Polish history are indicative of recent changes in Polish politics and society.

There are four notable examples of restored former synagogues:

Krakow. In 1958, the Old Synagogue in Krakow was opened as the Museum of the History and Culture of Jews of Krakow after the synagogue was given by the Jewish community to the city and restored. The space of the main hall houses an exhibition of Jewish ritual objects and Jewish art, but the primary exhibition is the synagogue itself with its original (rebuilt) masonry Ark and its elaborate wrought-iron bimah (a post-war recreation). In what was the women's gallery are still preserved a few fragments of painted wall decoration. Upstairs is a small exhibit on the history of Krakow's Jews, and there is also a room for temporary exhibitions. A marker commemorating the site of a Nazi execution of Polish patriots is in front of the synagogue.

Tykocin. The restoration of the Baroque synagogue at Tykocin, carried out in the late 1970s, is quite good. Omissions include the interior stair leading to the Ark and the use of a tile pavement where originally there was probably a wooden floor. The roof has been rebuilt and the paintings on the walls, mostly the texts of Hebrew prayers, have been repainted. The total effect is quite brilliant. No attempt was made to reconstruct the elaborate ceiling decoration, but similar decoration restored on the bimah provides some indication of its former splendor.

Exhibition cases with Jewish ritual objects (including a Torah) are scattered throughout the main hall of the synagogue. However, relatively little explanation of the purpose or context of these objects is given. Visitors are given, on arrival, the choice of explanatory sheets in various languages telling the history of Jews in general, and also the history of the Jews of Tykocin and the synagogue. Across the street from the synagogue the former bet ha-midrash has been restored as a civic museum. There has also been recent discussion concerning rebuilding some of the small buildings - mostly market stalls - originally adjacent to the synagogue.

Lancut. The former synagogue of Lancut, built in 1761, has been restored and includes impressive polychrome wall paintings, and folk interpretation of biblical scenes, with additional Hebrew prayer texts and decorative patterns filling almost all the interior wall space. The restoration was completed in 1991. Professor Jonathan Webber of Oxford University was consulted on the reconstruction of the painted Hebrew texts.

Wlodawa. The main synagogue of Wlodawa, erected in 1764-74 and partially founded by the Czartoryski family, still survives. The late-Baroque brick building was devastated during World War II and used by the Germans as a military warehouse. Restoration began in 1970. In 1986 the restored building was turned over to the Museum of Leczynsko-Wlodawski Lake Region, and contains a permanent exhibit on Judaism. The new museum was inaugurated in June 1990.

The most remarkable feature of the synagogue is its enormous painted stucco Aron-ha-Kodesh, which replaced the original Ark destroyed in a fire of 1934. The new neo-Baroque Ark has been restored as part of the museum.

Two nearby Jewish buildings have also been incorporated into the museum. A smaller neo-classical synagogue which also survived in part the devastation of World War II is being restored. The interior of the nearby bet ha-midrash, built in 1928, is being reconfigured to serve the needs of the museum.


iii. Synagogues Used for Non-Jewish Cultural Purposes

Because of their size, configuration and prominent location, a number of former synagogues were transformed to other public uses after World War II. These include libraries, museums, art galleries, and concert halls. In most cases, only selected original building features were preserved or restored in these building adaptations. In a few instances, however, careful restoration work took place to preserve synagogue features. Following are some notable examples:

Sejny. The nineteenth-century neo-Baroque synagogue was restored (without furnishings) in 1987 and is now used as a cultural center.

Szydlow. The large block-like sixteenth-century synagogue with heavy buttresses on all sides was rebuilt as a library and cultural center in the 1960s. The reconstruction was not particularly faithful to the building's earlier appearance, but in addition to the impressive exterior, the sanctuary space has been preserved intact, and the built-in masonry Ark has been left in place. Conservators have discovered the polished brass reflectors used to increase candlelight in the building. These were hidden by Jews before deportation. Though restored, they are now held in the offices of the regional Polish conservation workshops (PKZ) in Kielce and have not been returned to the building. The sanctuary was, until recently, used for art exhibitions and other recreational activities. Before recent funding cuts, the women's gallery served as the local library. The building is now empty and requires roof repairs. Evidence of water penetration can be seen on the interior sanctuary walls.

Radzanow. The synagogue survived the war as a stable, and afterwards was used as a warehouse for fertilizers. In the early 1980s, the south wall of the building collapsed. With funding from the regional Conservator, the building was then restored based on historical research by Eleonora Bergman. The structure, which now houses as library, was reopened in 1987. The restoration is significant for the attention to historical detail and the active role and funding of the regional authorities. Today, it is one of the very few late nineteenth or early twentieth century synagogues where the internal arrangement is partially preserved.

Zamosc. The former synagogue in this beautiful, planned sixteenth-century town, has been rebuilt, and is now used as a public library. The exterior has been restored with a reconstruction of what the original roof parapet and exterior decoration may have looked like, following an early seventeenth-century engraving and the appearance of other local buildings. There is no exterior plaque or other indication of the building's original purpose, but a full explanation is provided inside.

iv. Synagogues Preserved as Ruins

The protection of historic ruins as ruins, which is so prevalent in countries with extensive remains of ancient buildings, has been little practiced in Poland. The oldest buildings were always of wood, and little survives. Those stone buildings which can still be seen either have been rebuilt - restored or adapted - or are ruins awaiting rebuilding. There are a few exceptions to this rule, particularly in the case of castles, such as that which overlooks the much restored town of Kazimierz Dolny. In only one case - Tarnow - have the ruins of a synagogue been conserved and protected. In Tarnow, the four columns of the former bimah of the synagogue still stand, covered by a protected canopy and set in a small public park.

v. New Preservation Initiatives

Krakow: Tempel Synagogue. This is the only intact nineteenth-century Polish synagogue. Krakow, a German command center during World War II, was spared the destruction that the German army inflicted elsewhere in Poland. The Tempel Synagogue, which was used as stables, was looted but not destroyed. The Jewish Heritage Council of the World Monuments Fund is sponsoring the restoration of this structure, which will remain as a synagogue, but will also be used for concerts and other appropriate events.


vi. New Initiatives Needed for Preservation

Chmielnik. The synagogue of Chmielnik, devastated and now derelict, was built by 1633-34 and partially rebuilt in the eighteenth century (the shape of the windows, and of the stair to the gallery were changed), and again after a fire in 1849. In 1942 the synagogue was transformed into a warehouse by the Germans. The main hall was divided into two stories by the insertion of a wooden ceiling, and the integrity of the building was seriously damaged.

A survey of the building was carried out in 1960 with the intent of preserving the building. In 1960, 1970, and 1984 successive projects for the rebuilding of the structure and its adaptation into a house of culture for the local community were pursued. Rebuilding began in 1986 and a new steel roof was added. Work stopped in 1988 because of lack of funds.

Krakow: Kupa Synagogue. The Kupa synagogue in Kazimierz (the Jewish town adjacent to Krakow but now within city limits) was built in 1540, and rebuilt in 1647 and 1834. The synagogue was until recently a workshop of a craftsmen's cooperative. Rebuilding has changed the interior to such a degree that reconstruction of the original appearance is impossible. Nevertheless, it is desirable to expose the wall paintings and the Ark, which still survive, and find appropriate uses for the building. Traces of the bimah have also been found. An architectural survey, commissioned by the Krakow Jewish community and carried out by the Polish Conservation Workshops (PKZ) of Krakow, was made in 1988. The building is now empty - the Jewish Community can neither collect commercial rent on the structure nor afford to restore it.

Nowy Korczyn. The late eighteenth-century synagogue consists of a rectangular main hall proceeded by a porch, above which there is an open women's prayer room separated from the main hall only by a balustrade. The synagogue was heavily damaged in World War II, and converted into a warehouse. It has been abandoned for a long time. In recent years the painted ceiling has been removed to allow for the preservation of the paintings in restoration labs. In 1988 a detailed architectural survey was executed.

Orla. The masonry synagogue was probably built in the second quarter of the seventeenth century. It was rebuilt and enlarged in the eighteenth century, and again at the turn of the nineteenth century. The building was burned in 1928, and then devastated after World War II. In 1986, following the initiative of the community and the district conservator, efforts were begun to restore the building. Historical and architectural research was carried out, including the exposing of the foundations, the examination of the plaster, etc. The starting point for the restoration was the mid-nineteenth century state of the building. The synagogue is now covered with a new roof and partially plastered on the exterior. The destroyed annexes have been rebuilt and the vaults reinforced. Work is now suspended for lack of funds.

Pinczow. The seventeenth-century synagogue survives essentially intact as the oldest example of a synagogue where all the rooms - constituting a unified compact form - were built at the same time. It is also extremely important for the extensive fresco decoration that survives, albeit in a steadily deteriorating state. The Germans used the building as a warehouse, and it was substantially damaged. After the war the accumulated rubble was removed and the building was secured. Recently, the roof has been repaired, and windows installed. Rebuilding of the synagogue was begun in the 1980s, but the work has stopped because of lack of funds. Plans to adapt the synagogue as a museum of artistic stonework remain unrealized. The entire building and especially its valuable wall paintings continue to rapidly deteriorate.

Przysucha. The 1750 synagogue has not been considerably altered. It is a good eighteenth-century example of a nine-bay synagogue with bimah-support, characteristic of Polish synagogues from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries. The synagogue served as a warehouse during World War II, and was heavily damaged. In 1963 restoration was begun and some work carried out to protect the building from further deterioration. In 1968-70 work was again undertaken. The shape of the roof was changed from the four-slope type into the broken two-tiered roof like the one it probably had in the eighteenth century. Work was then suspended and the interior of the synagogue remains a ruin.

Rymanow. The synagogue, usually considered to have been built in the late eighteenth century, is located prominently on the crest of a small hill. The central core of the synagogue is a rectangular hall with thick massive walls made of stone and brick. Wall paintings are still preserved on the interior. The building is an imposing ruin in desperate need of stabilization, and then repair.

Wodzislaw. The sixteenth-century synagogue was partially rebuilt in the seventeenth century, and probably also in the eighteenth. The walls were raised, and perhaps the design and construction of the roof and ceiling were changed. During and after World War II it was used as a storehouse. Recently it was abandoned, the roof collapsed in 1987, and the building continues to deteriorate. No plans for its preservation have been advanced.



  1. Introduction
  2. TableofContents

    This chapter examines Poland's longstanding legal system for protecting monuments and considers the implications for protecting the thousands of Jewish sites documented in this report. It discusses relevant sections of the monuments law, provides insights about the effectiveness of these provisions for Poland's extensive collection of monuments in general and for Jewish sites in particular, assesses the special challenges of monuments protection posed by Poland's new economy, and recommends ways to improve protection in this new era in Poland's history.

    It is intended both to help visitors who might wish to contact officials in a town (miasto) or region (voivod) who are legally responsible for protecting properties with significant historic values and to assist experts, officials, and others seeking ways to ensure a future existence for the decimated physical remnants of the centuries-long Jewish presence in Poland.

    Poland has a strong tradition of leadership in preservation law and professional excellence. Its Law on the Protection of Cultural Property, enacted in 1962 and still the basis for monument protection in the country, has been called "one of the most comprehensive approaches to preservation" in Europe. Its Town and Country Planning Law, approved at about the same time, called for a priority to historic values and the involvement of conservation officials throughout the development process. The country's large cadre of conservation, planning, architectural, and design professionals has traditionally enjoyed a high degree of respect within Poland and the international community.

    The extraordinary national commitment to preservation and painstaking craftsmanship was demonstrated dramatically in the rebuilding of the Baroque and Renaissance streets and squares of the historic cores of Warsaw and Gdansk following their brutal leveling by the faltering Nazi regime. A number of other historic town centers which were not razed also experienced quality restoration.

    The fall of Communism revealed the shortcomings of Poland's legal system for protecting monuments and a selective view of the national patrimony, however. While there were many successes, there was also incalculable destruction of monuments, urban centers, and distinctive rural landscapes. Communist authorities sited the Nowa Huta steel mill downwind from Krakow, a decision that led to the showering of corrosive pollution on the architectural heritage of one of the world's great cities. Concrete residential blocks constructed in Polish villages and towns irrevocably damaged rural landscapes revered for centuries. Moreover, apart from a selective group of restorations and sporadic documentation, little attention was given to the country's multi-religious and multi-ethnic architectural and cultural heritage, a combined result of traditional preservation values and Communist ideology.

    Post-Communist Poland has taken significant steps to establish a more accountable legal framework for preservation, foster more public involvement, and expand the definition of the national patrimony. Its preservation statute was amended in 1991 to respond to profound changes in governance and private ownership. There is, especially among young people, conservation professionals, and intellectuals, considerable interest in the physical remnants of the country's once large and influential Jewish population (and other ethnic and religious minorities) despite the relatively homogenous population today. Experts are documenting Jewish sites, with some limited assistance by government, and examples of improved care are seen throughout the country.

    It is important to applaud and encourage these trends, while at the same time acknowledging their limited impact so far, and the complexity of remedial measures. The fate of the legacy of remaining sites associated with the historic Jewish population depends on further actions targeted to their protection, and more broadly on the successful transformation of its monuments protection system to an effective, accountable system responsive to multi-cultural values and the new context of increased local authority, private ownership, and a market-driven economy.

    The special challenge of protecting Jewish sites is compounded by the annihilation of so many property owners and the difficulty of crafting an equitable transfer to communal and private ownership of properties which were acquired either illegally or in forced sales from persecuted Jewish owners. Formerly Jewish-owned historic properties are often neglected under the cloud of title uncertainties or illegally built on without sufficient attention to preservation and planning values.

    Several relevant legal developments under discussion at this writing should be noted. An advisory group within the Ministry of Culture is discussing amendments to the monuments protection law aimed at strengthening its effectiveness. The Polish Parliament is considering legislation, whose details have been agreed to by Polish officials and the Jewish religious community, on the transfer communally owned property, and also re-privatization and compensation. While draft legislation so far does not specifically call for assessments of historic values as properties are transferred and titles cleared, the process can provide an important impetus for monuments inventories and new listings and possibly, a source of financial assistance for renovation.

    Meanwhile, at least one assumption widely held just a few years ago -- that there is nothing left to save -- has been shown to be patently false.


  3. Background: The Framework of Polish Monument Protection Law


Poland's monuments protection law, enacted in 1962 and amended several times since, lays out the legal framework for monuments protection. While its basic provisions are commendable, the state was both property owner and enforcer. In practice this often meant both a lack of accountability and a climate which fostered citizen passivity in the face of the substantial gap between the law and what was happening on the ground.

The law provides standards for identifying and listing monuments and a system of legal authorities, administrative entities, provisions for reviews, and economic subsidies to safeguard the national patrimony. It specifies that no project to alter, renovate, reconstruct, preserve, rebuild, or excavate a monument can proceed without official permission. The effects of development on registered properties must be considered in all regional and local plans. Owners of historic monuments are eligible for subsidies towards renovation costs. The law provides for documentation and research when necessary to consider development proposals, and for stop orders, penalties, and confiscation for non-compliance. The statute takes a commendable comprehensive approach that encompasses movable and immovable objects, the natural and manmade environment, and larger urban and rural settings as well as individual buildings.

    1. The Ministry of Culture and Arts
    2. TableofContents

      The Minister of Culture and Arts has overarching responsibility for monuments protection policies, including procedures for listing and delisting properties, and programs and budgets. The Conservator General, who reports directly to the Minister, is the highest ranking monuments protection official.

      Within the Ministry, several divisions reporting to the Conservator General are responsible for monuments documentation and coordination of registers; policies for archaeological sites, historic parks, gardens, and cemeteries; formulation of policies, budgeting, and five-year plans; and monitoring compliance. Responsibility for compliance, a new function since 1991, is housed in the State Service for the Protection of Monuments. Many of its 700 employees work in the regions.

    3. Voivodship Conservators of Monuments
    4. TableofContents

      Poland has a distinctive system of voivodship conservators of monuments. These conservators, appointed by the Minister of Culture, serve as guardians of the national patrimony in each of the country's 49 voivodships. Under the law, conservators determine what properties are listed, issue permits for restoration, review completed projects, and allocate state preservation assistance grants. Conservators' decisions may be appealed to the Minister of Culture, whose decision is final. Several dozen cities and towns with major historic resources, such as Warsaw, Krakow, Kazimierz Dolny, and Plock, employ their own conservators.

      In a trend not yet adequately addressed in law, the post-Communist shift to independently elected local governments has modified, and arguably weakened, the voivodship conservators' role. As regional representatives of the state Ministry of Culture, they are now administratively separate from local officials responsible for planning and development. Their budgets for preservation assistance are small, since the Ministry of Culture has limited funds. While their legal authority over listed monuments is solid, their influence these days depends a good deal on their negotiating ability rather than access to state preservation assistance subsidies. Moreover, their role is advisory on changes to buildings which are significant components of the historic fabric of towns and cities, but are not listed individually. This is important in protection policies for historic Jewish sites, which are often modest and of recent vintage, and for distinctive neighborhoods where the sustainability of the architectural legacy depends on integrating decisions on listed buildings with planning decisions for a larger area.


    5. Register Listing
    6. TableofContents

      Listing of a monument may be proposed by the voivodship conservator, the Minister of Culture, or the property owner. Each voivodship maintains a register of the monument listings situated in its territory, along with backup documentation. Listing does not require the owner's permission or a clear title. Voivodship conservators are the best source of up-to-date information about official listings in their respective areas, although the law provides for the collection of centralized information in the dozen or so larger regional documentation centers and Warsaw's Center for Documentation of Historic Monuments. Municipalities may also maintain their own registers of historic properties which are considered worthy of local protection in town plans.


    7. Monuments of History
    8. TableofContents

      In 1991, a new category of recognition was added, known as "monuments of history." The Minister of Culture was given the authority to recommend sites of special significance to the country which will be accorded special protections and access to larger funding assistance. In 1994 the Parliament approved legal boundaries for monuments of history in fifteen cities and towns, including several which formerly had significant Jewish populations, such as sections of Krakow, Warsaw, Kazimierz Dolny, and Wroclaw. These boundaries are an example of the post-Communist demands for a transparent and legally accountable planning and preservation system. Although the historic significance of these areas has been recognized for a long time, the 1994 law for the first time maps official boundaries around the protected zones. Implementation of this law depends on the incorporation of these zones, with their combination of individually listed and contributory properties, into local plans developed with the advice and approval of the voivodship conservator.


    9. Funding
    10. TableofContents

      Financing assistance for restoration is contemplated in the law, although severely constrained in practice, both under Communism and democracy, for different reasons. The Ministry of Culture has the authority to grant state funds amounting to 23 percent of project costs (and more, under certain circumstances). Voivodship conservators make recommendations on projects meriting assistance. A Church Fund, administered by the Board of Denominations in consultation with conservators, provides grants from a small budget for restoring religious buildings with recognized historic values; about 15 percent was granted to non-Catholic buildings in 1994.

      Voivodship conservators have also had access to voivod funds, although this varies considerably. In addition, since the fall of Communism, cities and towns have direct access to certain tax revenues and some are floating bonds for capital investments in infrastructure. Only limited funds have so far been available locally for historic preservation, depending on the vigor of the local economy, competing needs, and community interest in historic restoration.

      Krakow has a unique state budget line, the National Fund for Krakow Monuments Restoration, established in 1978 in recognition of the city's status as a World Heritage Site. Since 1990 the fund has been managed by a committee of officials and private experts. The fund has assisted a number of secular and religious restorations, including in recent years several synagogues and adaptive re-use of a nineteenth-century bet ha-midrash (prayer house).

      Private foundations from abroad have provided some restoration funds for projects, and there has been some assistance from international organizations -- the Council of Europe and UNESCO, for example -- to protect Europe's common cultural heritage.


    11. Cemeteries


Responsibility for protection of cemeteries rests with the Board for Conservation and Protection of Palaces, Gardens, and Cemeteries housed in the Ministry of Culture and Arts. The board's recommendations are based on assessments of historic, scientific, and aesthetic values, with the exception of war cemeteries, which are automatically granted monument status. Each minority religion, including Judaism, has a seat on this board, which also includes professional experts, voivodship conservators, and state preservation officials. Jan Jagielski, co-director of the survey for this report and director of documentation for the Jewish Historical Institute, represents Jewish interests.


  1. Jewish Sites and Polish Monuments Law
    1. Register Listing of Jewish Sites


In 1964 the official monuments list, containing over 35,000 entries, listed 8 Jewish cemeteries and 72 synagogues. Today, according to the latest figures, about 172 Jewish cemeteries in Poland are recognized monuments, with the majority of listings dating from 1986 on. About a hundred synagogues are currently listed, with some thirty more on various city and town registers. The number of listings increased rapidly in the beginning of the decade, as professionals and advocates who had been working quietly to document and preserve what they could, began to operate more openly.

Until the end of the 1980's, the record of official attention to historic buildings and sites associated with prewar Jewish life was spasmodic. Credit for documentation of synagogues and other Jewish monuments belongs to small groups of Polish and Jewish conservators, art historians, and architects, dating back to the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Outstanding among those working in the 1920s and 1930s were war and Holocaust victims Professor Oskar Sosnowski, director of the department of documentation of the Institute of Polish Architecture, and Szymon Zajczyk. After the devastation of the Nazi years, limited documentation under Communism of Jewish sites in smaller towns and villages emerged in the course of field surveys of rural landscapes by conservation professionals in the early 1960's and 1973. Interesting studies were completed for Zamosc, Wlodawa, Szydlow, and Tykocin with some official funding, and other work -- in Lesko, Torun, Kielce, and Lublin, for example -- was stimulated by intellectuals outside of government. The dedicated research of architects Maria and Kazmierz Piechotka, former members of the Institute staff, resulted in the publication of Wooden Synagogues in 1957, the definitive work on that sadly lost heritage. But overall, the record is clouded by acts of official omission and commission in the extensive losses to Jewish historic sites since World War II.

Despite the recent increase in register listing, it is generally agreed that listing is by no means complete (and in fact that the entire list of registered monuments in Poland inadequately represents current preservation values). The pace of listing has slowed somewhat in recent years, apparently as a result of the extensive paperwork involved and the lack of funds.

In a situation where listing has been spasmodic and uneven, the question arises, why have some Jewish sites been listed, and others not?

One reason is that some voivodships have been more active in monuments listing of Jewish sites than others. This pattern does not consistently reflect an historically larger Jewish population or more valuable architectural legacy. More likely, a critical difference exists among voivodship conservators in interpreting the law's intent with respect to listing of these sites. Although language in the law provides for flexibility in listing criteria, some hold to a narrower definition of architectural value.

Another reason, relevant to listing of cemetery sites, is that monuments policy provides that only those with gravestones can be considered for designation on the basis of artistic values. Otherwise, the nomination must be assessed for its historic values, a more difficult standard. Jewish religious leaders, preservationists, and others propose that all Jewish cemeteries -- with or without gravestones -- be designated as monuments both to respect religious law which prescribes the sanctity of those sites in perpetuity and the special circumstances of Jewish history in Poland. A comparison of listed and unlisted cemeteries shows that, in addition to the presence of gravestones, sites most likely to be listed are centuries old, associated with important Jewish historic figures, near larger cities and towns, and are visited by organized Jewish groups, pilgrimages, and individual visitors.

Knowledgeable observers caution against looking for a rational pattern in what is listed, and not listed, among Jewish historic sites. They say that monument designation, certainly in the past, resulted from happenstance more than preservation logic or a consistent national policy -- an interested voivodship conservator or local scholar, pressure from religious groups and visitors, and the like.


    1. The Value of Monument Designation for Jewish Sites
    2. TableofContents

      Despite the gap between the exhortations in the law and reality on the ground, monuments listing provides many tangible and intangible benefits. Unlike environmental law, which was virtually developed de novo in the post-Communist era, Poland has a recognized and respected legal system with specific protections for sites and structures that are included under its purview. Listing is a threshold requirement for access to various public subsidies for restoration, and for intervention by voivodship conservators. Moreover, listing is an honor, and an important statement about inclusion in the national patrimony. Listing can help provide assurances to investors and donors within the country and abroad of official support. It can help attract tourism. Listing also serves an educational role to elevate community awareness of a monument's value among local citizens and can help build critical local interest in preservation.

      Under Communism, limited funding was directed, at times, for restoring some Jewish monuments. Over a dozen synagogues were restored with state and voivod funds during the 1970's and 1980's -- including the synagogues in Tykocin, Wlodawa, and Szczebrzeszyn, and the Nozyk synagogue, the sole remaining synagogue in Warsaw. Warsaw's conservator provided funds for Nozyk's restoration, and another restoration, in Dzierzoniow, was assisted by the Church Fund. Restoration of the precious synagogues in Orla and Pinczow, and the Izaak synagogue in Krakow, was begun in the 1980's. The turmoil of political transformation at the end of the decade, however, ended the small funding for these projects.

      Today, ironically, Poland's preservation and planning system is more receptive to listing and restoration, but since state subsidies are extremely constrained, the results on the ground are not yet so different. There is much discussion of the need to craft a new financing system in keeping with the transformed economy -- with more emphasis on tax incentives and other financing methods to attract private investment and local funding and spark public private partnerships -- but this is still evolving.

      The challenges go beyond crafting subsidies and incentives to devising sensitive, informed preservation solutions compatible with cities and towns experiencing an unaccustomed pace of change. This is especially important for the often modest buildings in the Jewish architectural and historic legacy. Encouraged by its monuments law, Poland has excelled in the use of historic buildings for offices, foundations, educational centers, and other uses which could be accommodated without substantial change in the interior, as well as the exterior. There has been surprisingly little experience with the adaptive re-use familiar in the United States which attempts to accommodate modern uses and balance preservation with development.

      Two recent examples involving historic Jewish buildings illustrate the new development challenges and the critical role monuments listing can play in setting the legal context for negotiated solutions. One project in Jewish Kazimierz involved major alteration to the interior of a nineteenth-century prayer house in order to create a modern conference center and school. This is part of a larger hotel/restuarant complex. Another involved the ruins of the yeshiva (Jewish school) of Gora Kalwaria in Warsaw listed as a monument in 1993. Once adjacent to the now-destroyed Warsaw Yeshiva, it was recognized as an historic vestige representative of hundreds of such Jewish schools. Now the ruins will be integrated into the new structure. While the architectural solutions in these two projects are not uniformly praised, they represent the kind of experimentation needed in an economy experiencing a different pace and type of development.

      Cemeteries present a special case. Jewish religious officials have argued that cemeteries should be protected with automatic listing, much as is the case for Polish war cemeteries. Survey findings show that listing offers some protection from conversion of sites to commercial and industrial uses, although a number -- with documented artistic and historic values -- were found unfortunately to be at risk. Threats range from pollution to incompatible development and use. Listed sites with reported serious threats include the two Krakow cemeteries (pollution); Popowo Koscielne (vandalism and pollution); Jastrowie and Miroslawiec (erosion, vandalism, and security); Radomskie (erosion); Tomaszow Mazowiecki (overgrown vegetation); Tarnow (vandalism); Zabno (vandalism and security); Wasilkow II (nearby incompatible development and security); Dobrodzien (vandalism); Praszka (vandalism); and Gdansk-Chelm (nearby incompatible development, security, vandalism, and overgrown vegetation).

      Some of these threats have since been ameliorated, largely through citizen initiatives and financial assistance from the United States, Israel, and private foundations. Seed money from the Polish government to establish the Remembrance Foundation has helped spark private, voivodship, and community involvement in protection.

      Listing of cemeteries and other sites will be more effective in the future as the monuments review process is strengthened.


    3. Historic Markers


At this writing, more historic plaques are beginning to appear on listed buildings and sites. This remains the exception rather than the rule, however. Even when plaques are affixed, few provide viewers with information that would help them understand more fully the legacy of the vibrant Jewish communities -- sometimes a third or even a majority of the local population -- which the listed building or cemetery has outlasted.

The voivodship conservator has legal authority to recommend that markers be installed on official monuments, but cannot affix them on private or municipally owned buildings or order them to be affixed. The Remembrance Foundation has sent specially designed markers to a number of mayors and conservators, and succeeded in having these placed on about thirty cemeteries and other sites.

  1. Conclusion: Closing the Gap between Law and Reality


As this chapter makes clear, a sizable gap between the protections envisioned in Poland's comprehensive monuments protection law and reality continues to exist. This is true of Poland's large heritage of monuments and sites, and its substantial legacy of buildings and sites associated with the Jewish presence in Poland.

While this chapter has focused on ways to ensure greater protection to Jewish sites under Poland's monuments laws, it is evident that this goal will be enhanced by the success of efforts to strengthen and fund Poland's entire preservation system and integrating monument listing with sympathetic planning, development, and investment. One is linked to the other: efforts to landmark historic sites associated with centuries of Jewish settlement, and to ensure an appropriate place in the Polish national patrimony, will be most effective in a system of preservation targeted to authentic revitalization of older neighborhoods and historic centers. Protection of historic Jewish sites are part of this larger planning challenge.

Another over-arching need concerns agreement on the process to provide for the return of properties to responsible Jewish communities and private owners, and structuring a system of financing and incentives to help owners be responsible stewards of historic properties. While it is beyond the scope of this paper to go into the complexities of this difficult issue, now being reviewed in Parliament, it is important to emphasize its connection to the future of the historic legacy discussed here. Clouded titles are a cause of continuing loss, and illegal, unplanned building. In town after town, there are neglected structures and plots where ownership is in dispute and reinvestment is hindered. The headquarters building of the Jewish Historical Institute and the Wroclaw Synagogue have restoration funds available, but work is held off until titles are cleared.

By the same token, transfer of properties will not automatically resolve problems of planning and reinvestment for the legacy of Jewish monuments, and indeed may raise new ones. It is essential that agreement include a process, linked to monuments and planning laws, to ensure that historic, cultural, and architectural values in privatized or transferred properties are appropriately assessed, and that designation in turn provide access incentives and subsidies, perhaps from a fund created as part of the compensation system.

Other needed steps include:

Recognize diverse cultures fully in the national patrimony, so that listed sites represent an authentic picture of Polish history. The special category of "monuments of national history" should similarly incorporate multi-cultural values.

Document more completely the full range of significant sites and properties associated with Jewish life. So far many categories beyond synagogues and cemeteries -- prayer houses, ritual baths, burial preparation buildings, Jewish schools and orphanages, hospitals, and communal offices -- have not been systematically surveyed. Current government estimates are said to be far too low.

Accelerate register listing for Jewish sites. The register process is an accepted signal to officials and private owners alike to consult with the voivodship conservator throughout planning and development.

Forge stronger linkages between monuments review and local planning, development, and investment. Given the evolution of independent local governments with planning powers and access to funds, clarification is needed about the respective roles of voivodship conservators and town planning authorities. Conservators need funds to add clout to their legal authority. At the same time, it is essential to raise local officials' awareness of conservation values and the importance of encouraging investment in historic urban centers. Their role is key.

Strengthen the regulatory process and penalties without imposing unneeded bureaucracy and constraints to needed investment. If the system is to work in a private economy, there must be enough money for it to be accountable, responsive, and efficient.

Given the incomplete state of documentation and landmarking of Jewish sites, Polish conservation officials should consider an interim legal arrangement to grant threatened but unlisted properties eligibility under certain circumstances for the reviews that would be triggered if they were already designated. Such provisions in the United States, which apply to development proposals that involve federal investment, have prevented losses due to incomplete surveys and delays in processing register listings.

Recognize the importance of nonregulatory incentives and tax reform in a market economy. Reforms to encourage private investment and private donations -- through tax benefits, subsidies, and the like -- have been important spurs in the United States and Western Europe, and are needed in Poland.

Develop guidelines to implement historic town and conservation zones, and continue efforts to negotiate preservation solutions which combine authenticity with more flexibility than in the past. Poland has been accustomed to extremes: either painstaking preservation or demolition by neglect. The first major adaptive use project in Krakow was only recently completed. More efforts along these lines are essential to develop models and guidelines for redeveloping historic centers. Some places need to be set aside for no change and -- a new challenge for Polish preservation -- other places need to respond to change without compromising authenticity and historic values.

Provide more specialized training on Jewish art, history, and conservation for monuments conservators. The Ministry of Culture and Academy of Sciences have, with small amounts of funds, provided needed educational opportunities to deepen Polish conservators' specialized knowledge of Jewish art and monuments. Several, for example, have been organized by the Jewish Historical Institute on cemeteries and stone conservation. More are needed. Other types of meetings -- for example, involving local officials and civic/citizen/professional groups for example, on linkages between urban revitalization and historic Jewish sites -- would be useful.

Seek out collaborative opportunities, early on, in major urban and regional development/tourism schemes. Scarce funds for documentation, sensitive planning, and restoration of historic resources may become available from government and private sources when major reinvestment is planned. Early involvement of conservation professionals will help avoid threats to historic resources caused by inadequate planning and consultation.

Develop and support programs and policies aimed at strengthening NGO partners of citizens and professionals, and their access to information and standing to raise issues and participate in project negotiations. The Citizens' Committee, professionals working on their own time, the Jewish Historical Institute, and citizen groups in Krakow, Warsaw, Kazimierz Dolny, and other places provide substantial examples of the catalytic role that private groups play in elevating public awareness of cultures and values which have been outside of the mainstream values and the gaps between law and reality. NGO's can play a critical supportive role in pulling together resources and players for constructive solutions. Their involvement as partners, as well as advocates and public educators, is essential in an era of limited public resources and increased pace of development.

Grant recognition awards. Successful public and private initiatives and collaboration to protect the legacy of Jewish monuments -- large and small -- should be recognized in an awards program. These could include citations for community clean-up of cemeteries, creative uses of historic buildings, excellence in integrating restoration into the larger urban or countryside environmental, and developing revenue-generating projects. Such awards could also help transfer solutions and collaborative approaches.



Eleonora Bergman has been researching and publishing on the architecture of synagogues in Poland for over 15 years. While working in the state-owned Workshops for Conservation of Monuments, she has authored and co-authored numerous articles on urban history and historical documentation. Ms. Bergman is currently working with Jan Jagielski at the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw on a catalogue of the extant synagogues in Poland.

Samuel Gruber served as Director of the Jewish Heritage Council of WMF from 1989 to 1995. He is currently Project Consultant for the World Monuments Fund, Research Director of the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad, and Executive Director of the Jewish Heritage Research Center, a private research and consulting firm. He is Adjunct Professor of Fine Arts at Syracuse University, a Fellow of the American Academy in Rome, and co-author with Phyllis Myers of A Survey of Historic Jewish Sites in the Czech Republic (1995).

Jan Jagielski has been traveling throughout Poland collecting records of Jewish monuments for over 30 years. In 1981, he became a founding member of the Citizens' Committee for Protection of Jewish Monuments. Since 1991, Mr. Jagielski has headed the Department for Documentation of Monuments at the Jewish Historical Institute, the department which he established together with Eleonora Bergman.

Phyllis Myers, President of State Resource Strategies in Washington, D.C., serves as Senior Research Consultant for the World Monuments Fund project on Jewish monuments in Central and Eastern Europe. Ms. Myers, a preservation planner and policy consultant for major environmental organizations, has authored numerous publications and articles on land conservation, historic preservation, and conservation finance. She is a founding member of the Jewish Heritage Council of the World Monuments Fund and also serves on the boards of the National Coalition for Heritage Areas and the Committee of 100 on the Federal City.