Kazimierz is a district in Krakow, Poland named after King Casimir III, the last great ruler of the Piast Dynasty. It had a sizeable population of Catholics and Jews who lived side by side until the Nazi invasion. As is true with all things related to the holocaust, the synagogues of Kazimierz were also victims of the war. Some buildings were completely looted and destroyed while some others became Nazi warehouses.
Today, a slow walk of about 700m covers seven historic synagogues that have been restored after the war. While all of them are similar with respect to housing articles of worship of Judaism and have a Bima (a platform to read the Torah), a Torak Ark (a chest to put away the Torah Scrolls), an Eternal Light, and at times grand artwork, the period in which the synagogue was built has influenced the building’s architecture. Today some of them are active synagogues while some others are non-active, but host activities related to Jewish study, art and culture.
1) The Remuh Synagogue is among the smallest of the seven and an active synagogue. During the war it was a Nazi warehouse for their firefighting equipment.
The old Jewish Cemetery (not in use anymore) lies adjacent to the synagogue. The Nazis used the tombstones to pave roads.
2) On the opposite side of the street is the Poppera Synagogue. During its heyday it was one of the grandest, having a wealthy merchant Wolf Poppera as its patron. When business took a downward plunge and the ravages of war depleted the Poppera family of its wealth, they could no longer support the upkeep of the synagogue.
A little board on the outside wall states that the synagogue underwent many ‘reconstructions’ in the 19th and 20th centuries and ‘lost the features of the style and the sacred character of the interior’.
Between the Remuh and Poppera Synagogues is a little memorial dedicated to the 65000 Polish Jews that were killed by the Nazis.
3) The Old Synagogue was the religious, administrative and social centre of the Kazimierz Jews. During the 2nd world war it was emptied off its religious elements and served as an army warehouse. Today it serves as a museum related to Judaism.
4) The High Synagogue is the third oldest synagogue after the Old Synagogue and Remuh Synagogue. It is called ‘High’ because the prayer room was situated on the first floor of the building. This currently inactive synagogue used to be a Study House. Today it houses a bookshop and exhibitions related to the Jewish community.
5) Synagogue Izaaka, an active synagogue, it was built with donations that were made by Isaac Jakubowicz a banker by profession.
6) The Kupa Synagogue stands out for its extraordinary artwork. Even though it is not a place of worship today, the paintings are a visual treat. It was built by raising funds from among the Jewish goldsmiths.
7) The seventh on the tour and the grandest of all is the Tempel Synagogue. It served as a horse stable during Nazi occupation. An active synagogue, it has received donations from all over the world that aided major renovations that have added to the glory of this place of worship.
Start at Szeroka Street and visit 1) Remuh 2) Poppera and 3) Old Synagogue.
Continue along Josefa Street to visit the 4) High Synagogue.
Make a right on to Jakuba Street to visit 5) Synagogue Izaaka.
Continue along Jakuba Street, make a left on to Miodowa Street to visit 6) Kupa Synagogue.
A few steps further down along Miodowa Street leads to 7) Tempel Synagogue.
More stories from Poland here.