After I wrote about the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland last week, many people asked me to report more on this group and the important work they are doing.
The Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland was established by the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland (Union) and the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) to manage the restitution process for Jewish communal properties and properties that were returned as well as to protect Jewish cemeteries and commemorate other historical sites of Jewish heritage in Poland.
Jews enriched and contributed to the general culture, tradition and spiritual heritage in Poland for hundreds of years. Today, traces of this once great heritage are rediscovered in neglected synagogues, schools, hospitals and cemeteries.
The foundation’s fundamental role is to recover the properties and save the memory of the thriving prewar Jewish community of 3.5 million people, as well as to represent the interests of both the Jewish community in Poland and Polish Jews living all over the world.
The foundation’s goals are to work with government agencies in order to reclaim properties that were owned before the war by the many Jewish religious communities and other Jewish legal entities (based on the Law on the Relationship between the State and the Union of Jewish Communities of 1997), and to provide legal services for the regulatory procedure. After reclaiming the properties, the foundation is responsible for their management and sees to any preservation and renovations that bear special religious or historical significance.
The foundation collects archival documentation and evidence for the regulatory procedure. They also work at the renovation and upkeep of Jewish cemeteries.
Thanks to the cooperation of international institutions and private donors, they have recently succeeded with projects at the cemeteries in Strzegowo, Kozienice, Zakopane and Poznan – literally saving them from desecration and disappearance.
They have been revitalizing returned properties and bringing them back for Jewish interest groups, as well as conducting scholarly research concerning the cultural heritage of Polish Jews.
Due to the need for cooperation with the local populace, they also promote tolerance, human rights and the multicultural dimension of Jewish historical sites in local communities.
The foundation’s greatest challenge is being able to raise funds for the effective revitalization of returned properties – especially the ones of great historical value and significance, as well as Jewish cemeteries. Unfortunately, during the past 60 years these sites were neglected even when they were used for various public purposes. The foundation asserts that these synagogues, mikvahs and pre-funeral houses are an important factor in regional development, as landmarks for remembrance and the dignity of the Jewish communities.
The foundation would like to work together with local NGOs in the cultural field in order to integrate Jewish memorial sites into the historical landscape of given regions. In this way, hopefully, the Polish community will start to view Jewish sites as part of its Polish national historical heritage. Consequently the level of protection and respect for Jewish sites will grow, which in turn will protect such places from vandalism and desecration.
Some of the current projects are:
A plan to restore a pre-funeral house designed by Erich Mendelsson in Olsztyn (north-eastern Poland), together with “The Borussia Cultural Society”.
Together with the Association of Zamosk Jewry and with regional authorities, the foundation will renovate the old synagogue in Zamosk – one of the most important monuments of Renaissance architecture in Poland, listed on the World UNESCO Heritage registry and the only preserved synagogue in Poland established by Sephardic Jews exiled from Spain.
Together with the Carpathian Foundation, plans are in the works for arranging a tourist route across the Jewish Galicia region.
The foundation has applied for support for those projects from the funds of the European Union.
Together with the association of Rimanov chassidim, the foundation plans to renovate the historic Rymanów synagogue. Together with local authorities, the Opole University and the Hatikvah Association, they are working on an educational project for schools, focused on Jewish cemeteries in the Opole region. The renovation plans at cemeteries include Wysokie Mazowieckie, Mszczonów, Mielec, Leczna, Kolno, Przemysl and Dubienka.
The foundation’s mission of heritage preservation not only aims at physical renovation activities but also at the restoration of memory. For this reason they consider education for heritage and education for tolerance to be a very important component of their activities. The foundation has invited various experts to develop new educational projects with their support.