Warsaw Jews Mark Miracle with Exhibit on Surviving Shul

This Chanukah, Warsaw’s Jews are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the only synagogue in Warsaw that survived the Holocaust — a synagogue that is today a symbol of efforts to revive Jewish life in the Polish city.

The Nozyk Synagogue “is still a living synagogue today, utilized not only for daily and holiday prayers, but as a central gathering place for the contemporary Jewish community,” said Helena Datner, director of Warsaw’s Jewish Pedagogical Center and a former president of Warsaw’s Jewish community.

As part of the celebrations, the synagogue is hosting an exhibit, “Remembrance: Jewish Monuments in Warsaw,” which visually documents the important Jewish presence in the city. It opened Sunday night, the first night of Chanukah.

Funded primarily by the Warsaw city government, with additional funding from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and private sources, the exhibit includes contemporary images of Jewish sites in Warsaw as well as photographs that date back to before World War II.

It also includes material from a large deposit of prayer books and other Jewish texts that has been stored since the war in the basement of the synagogue as a geniza — a resting place for Jewish books no longer in use.

“It is an exhibition about memory in the simplest sense of the term,” Datner said.

“The inclusion of Jewish buildings is a symbol of the significance of space for the Jewish community as, especially in Poland, this is what often binds Jews together,” she said.

At the same time, she said, the material from the Warsaw geniza emphasizes the “significance of our sacred texts in Jewish survival.”

“Though more books than people survived the war in Warsaw, these texts that no longer belong to individuals belong now to the heritage that our community today attempts to carry on together.”

Before the Holocaust, Warsaw was the most important Jewish center in Europe.

The city’s more than 350,000 Jews made up one-third of the city’s population. More Jews lived in Warsaw than in all of Czechoslovakia; roughly the same number lived in France.

Of all the cities in the world, only New York had a bigger Jewish population.

The Nozyk Synagogue, established by a wealthy Warsaw couple, Zalman and Rywka Nozyk, was just one of the city’s more than 440 synagogues and prayer houses.

During World War II it was inside the Warsaw Ghetto. Devastated during and after the bloody Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, it was used as a stable by the Nazis.

The Communist government funded its full restoration, which was completed in 1983, the 40th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, as part of attempts to win legitimacy in the eyes of the West.

There are no precise figures regarding Warsaw’s Jewish population today. Despite dramatic efforts at communal revival since the fall of communism, numbers still remain tiny — a few thousand Jews at most.

Still, the Nozyk Synagogue today forms part of a living Jewish complex in the heart of the city, regularly used for services.

It and another prewar building next door house Jewish clubs, offices, function rooms, educational and welfare services and kosher eating facilities.

Another nearby building houses the Yiddish theater and a Yiddish cultural society. Elsewhere in the city, the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation runs a Jewish day school for more than 165 pupils.

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