In Poland activists fight rabbi’s ghetto skyscraper

By Nissan Tzur, February 7, 2013
Nozyk shul stands next to the endangered community centre (Photo: AP)

Nozyk shul stands next to the endangered community centre (Photo: AP)

Poland’s Ministry of Culture will soon decide whether to allow Warsaw’s historic Jewish community centre to be demolished in order to make way for a skyscraper.

Adding to the controversy is the fact that the request to pull down the building, which stands at the heart of the former Jewish ghetto in Warsaw, came from the current Jewish community leaders themselves.

The white building on Twarda Street survived German bombardment during the Second World War and was a symbol of renewed Jewish life in post-war Poland. It became a central address for Holocaust survivors and members of the Polish Jewish community.

In 2007, Poland’s Chief Rabbi, Michael Schudrich, and the President of the Jewish Community, Piotr Kadlcik, announced plans for a 208-metre skyscraper to be built next to the Nozyk Synagogue.

The plan provoked outrage among Jewish organisations and Holocaust survivors around the world, who argued that the project would harm the unique character of the ghetto and overshadow the old synagogue, one of the few buildings in Warsaw that survived the Nazi bombings.

At that time, Mr Kadlcik dismissed the critics, claiming that “the success of the project is closely tied to the survival of the Jewish community in Warsaw”.

The Jewish community’s leaders today maintain that the three-story community centre is cramped and mouldy and that it can no longer fulfil the needs of a growing community. They claim that many events have to be held at other sites in Warsaw due to lack of space in the old building.

Campaigners against the demolition, who include members of Warsaw’s Jewish community, have sent a petition to the Ministry of Culture requesting that the building be declared a historic monument.

Andrzej Zozula, vice president of the Jewish Community, commented: “I can’t agree with the opinion that preserving the building is more important than the community’s future.”

Rabbi Schudrich added: “We respect the past, but build for the future.”

Last updated: 11:45pm, February 7 2013