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Survey Documents Jewish Sites, Relics That Survived in Poland

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A New York-based monuments preservation organization has published a survey of historic Jewish monuments in Poland — the first full-scale survey of existing Jewish relics in contemporary Poland.

Including much previously unavailable or unknown information, the survey describes the current condition and status of more than 1,000 Jewish sites throughout Poland, mostly cemeteries and synagogues.

The illustrated survey is a report of research carried out between 1991 and 1993 by the Jewish Heritage Council of the World Monuments Fund on behalf of the United States Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad.

The commission, founded by Congress in 1985 to work with the U.S. State Department, negotiates agreements for the inventory and preservation of endangered monuments, historic buildings, archival material and cemeteries associated with the foreign heritage of U.S. citizens.

The survey of Poland, whose published report is the first in a planned series funded by the commission and focusing on central and Eastern Europe, was undertaken to encourage government and private strategies to protect and preserve these relics.

“This report should remind government and private citizens that preservation and restoration of eastern and central European cultural landmarks is of the utmost importance of to many Americans,” said Rabbi Arthur Schneier, the commission’s chairman.

A RANGE FROM RUINS TO ACTIVE SHULS

The survey lists all the approximately 300 known extant synagogue buildings in Poland, their dates of construction (if known) and present use.

The synagogues range from ruins, to buildings now used as cinemas, warehouses, shops, cultural centers, museums and other secular uses, to a handful still used as synagogues.

The survey also lists approximately 700 of the 1,000 Jewish cemeteries or sites of former cemeteries identified during the survey, with information including number of tombstones, condition, present use and threats from vegetation, pollution, erosion, vandals and construction. Many of the cemeteries have no visible graves.

Information about these sites has been installed in a computer database at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.

“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 exist today,” the survey states.

“Most are not 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 half a century of neglect of most of the places that managed to survive,” the survey says.

An enormous task lies ahead to halt and reverse deterioration and correct the effects of mindless and inappropriate change, it reports

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