Auschwitz shul is restored 60 years after Kristallnacht

OSWIECIM, Poland — A synagogue in the Polish town of Oswiecim — a town better known by its German name, Auschwitz — has been rededicated as a "center of prayer and contemplation and eternal memorial to Jewish victims of the Holocaust."

The ceremony, held Tuesday and attended by a Jewish delegation and representatives of the Polish, American and Israeli governments, was one of several events across Poland marking the 60th anniversary of Kristallnacht.

"It is good that next to a camp of death there will be a camp of life," said Hirsch Kornreich, a 70-year-old Holocaust survivor from Oswiecim who now lives in New York.

Kornreich, who formed part of the 50-member Jewish delegation at the dedication ceremony, grew up next door to the synagogue and became a bar mitzvah there.

The Lomdei Mishnayot synagogue, long used as a carpet warehouse, was returned to Poland's Jewish community in April. It was the first Jewish property to be returned in Poland under the provisions of a law enacted last year.

Before the Holocaust, Oswiecim was a shtetl and more than half of its 12,000 population was Jewish. The Nazis built their most notorious death camp, Auschwitz, a mile and a half outside the town.

Kornreich told reporters he was too emotionally shaken to join the other members of the delegation on a tour of the Auschwitz and Birkenau camps, where at least 1.5 million Jews — including Kornreich's family — were killed.

A new prayer and education center will be built in the synagogue and in an adjoining house over the next two years by the N.Y.-based Auschwitz Jewish Center Foundation at a cost of up to $10 million.

"Our goal is to re-create a permanent structure symbolizing Jewish life in a place which, for too many years, has only represented Jewish death," project founder Fred Schwartz said.

The Nazi pogrom on Nov. 9-10, 1938, in which hundreds of synagogues in Germany and German-occupied Austria were put to the torch and thousands of Jews arrested, foreshadowed the Holocaust itself.

The destruction of Poland's 3.5 million Jews began less than a year later, when Germany invaded Poland on Sept. 1, 1939, touching off World War II.

On Sunday, Polish Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek and other representatives of the Polish government, the Roman Catholic Church and other faiths, as well as Jewish groups, unveiled a monument to commemorate the Kristallnacht pogrom in Wroclaw, a city that before World War II was the German city of Breslau.

Breslau was home to Germany's second-largest Jewish community.

The monument was unveiled at the site of one of the synagogues burned down during the pogrom.

"For 50 years we have been asking how such a horrible Holocaust could have been possible," Buzek said at the ceremony.

"Despite the difficulties and barriers, I believe Jewish culture will become an integral part of the culture of the Polish republic," he said.

In another event, the only 19th-century synagogue still standing in Poland, the Tempel synagogue in Krakow, was opened to the public for tours of the full-scale restoration that is a project of the N.Y.-based World Monuments Fund.

Scaffolding recently was removed from the synagogue's interior, revealing the ornate ceiling decoration that was painstakingly cleaned.

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