Old Synagogue in Kazimierz
October 2005 Photo
of Old Synagogue in Kazimierz
October 1998 photo
of front wall of Old Synagogue in Kazimierz
The Old Synagogue (Synagoga Stara) in
the Kazimierz district of Krakow is the oldest surviving Jewish
place of worship in Poland. It is located at the southern end
of the main street in Kazimierez, at ul. Szeroka 24; the building
adjoins a reconstructed section of the old city walls of Kazimierz.
October 2005 photo
of old city wall with Synagogue behind it.
Most guidebooks say this synagogue was
established in the 15th century, but the author of Schindler's
List wrote that it dates back to the 14th century, during the
time that the Jews were first invited to settle in Poland.
The Old Synagogue was destroyed by fire
in 1557 but was rebuilt by Italian architect Mateo Gucci in the
There are seven historic Synagogues in
Kazimierz, including the Old Synagogue, but only one was still
being used for worship when I visited in 1998. The photo below
shows the entrance to the Old Synagogue on the left and a portion
of the reconstructed city wall on the right.
Entrance to museum
in Old Synagogue in Kazimierz
Students of American history are familiar
with Tadeusz Kosciuszko, the Polish General who fought in the
American Revolution and later became a great friend of Thomas
Jefferson. During the war which resulted in the Partition of
Poland between the Russians, Prussians and Austrians, Koscuiszko
was the leader of the Poles. In 1794 he appeared at the Old Synagogue
to rally the Jews to fight for Polish independence. This established
the Old Synagogue as the place where political leaders in Poland
would meet with the Jews. Polish President Ignacy Moscicki made
an official visit to the Old Synagogue in 1931 in a symbolic
gesture of friendship with the Jewish population.
In the novel, Schindler's List, there
is a description of how the Nazis came to the Old Synagogue on
Dec. 4, 1939 and promised to spare the lives of the Jews in the
congregation if they would spit on the sacred Torah. All but
one spat on the Torah, but the Nazis shot them all anyway. This
scene was not in Spielberg's film, although the movie was based
on the novel.
It is currently being used as the Museum
of Jewish History and Culture which houses a collection of photographs
of life in Kazimierz before the Nazi occupation, as well as paintings
by Jewish artists and religious objects. Of all the cities in
Poland, Krakow has the most evidence of Jewish culture.
The Old Synagogue was almost completely
destroyed by the Nazis; it was restored after the war, but the
16th century wrought-iron bimah in the center of the main prayer
hall is original.
The old photo below, which was taken
before the German occupation of Poland began in 1939, shows the
bimah in the center.
Interior of the Old
Synagogue in Kazimierz