Judaica experts hail ‘amazing’ discovery of treasure while digging under Poland synagogue

The 350 items included a silver Torah crown and a yad (pointer), a silver cup and five candlesticks


A remarkable stash of Jewish ritual ware has been found by chance as part of an archaeological dig in a synagogue in Małopolska, Poland.

There were 350 objects in the find, including artefacts from the First World War.

Archaeologists excavating at the Old Synagogue in Wieliczka were digging a small test hole when they found a fragment of decaying wood. They removed the layers of earth to expose the top of a wooden crate, 80 cm high and 130 cm long, hidden in the ground.

Inside they found a trove which included a silver Torah crown and a yad (pointer), a silver cup and five candlesticks.

Also found were the fragments of brass chandeliers and some rimonim, the ornamental objects that decorate the top of Torah roller handles.

Beverley Nenk, curator of medieval collections and Judaica at the British Museum, said it was very unusal to find a hoard of this kind buried within a synagogue.

She said: “If there are any legible inscriptions on the pieces, they may yield information about dates and individual people in the community, since Torah shields, yads and rimonim are often inscribed with the names of donors.

“Hopefully further work on this amazing discovery will provide an insight into the history and lives of the lost Jewish community of Wieliczka.”

The box additionally contained 18 cap badges bearing the initials of Austro-Hungarian emperor Franz Joseph, who ruled from 1848 until his death in 1916.

Michał Wojenka from the Institute of Archaeology of Jagiellonian University, who was supervising the dig, told the JC: “This is a very preliminary work in the Wieliczka synagogue and there [are] still a lot of things that need to be done, including the conservation of building and the analysis of finds.

“The most problematic issue is to answer the question under what circumstances the chest was buried.”

Speaking to the Polish Press Agency’s English-language portal, Dr Wojenka commented that if the test hole had been dug just a little further away, the treasure would have remained hidden.

According to the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, the synagogue was built around 1750, although the exact date of construction is not known.

Wieliczka has had a Jewish presence since the late medieval period. They were banished by several kings in the 1500s, though such bans were never enforced as the Jews played a vital role in the town’s economy.

Anti-Jewish riots were reported in 1889 and 1906. By 1921, there were 1,135 Jews living in Wieliczka, though few Jews who survived the Holocaust returned after the Second World War, meaning the community did not survive.

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