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 Kazimierz, at ul. Szeroka 24; the building adjoins a reconstructed section of the old city wall of Kazimierz.

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 1570ies.

There are seven historic Synagogues in Kazimierz, including the Old Synagogue, but only one, the Remu'h Synagogue, 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. There was a war in Poland, which resulted in the first Partition of Poland between the Russians, Prussians and Austrians in 1772. After another Partition of Poland in 1793, there was the first of three national uprisings called Insurekcja Kosciuszkowska (the Kosciuszko Insurrection) named after the leader. During an insurrection, Kosciuszko appeared at the Old Synagogue in 1794 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.

October 2005 photo of entrance into Old Synagogue

On the square in front of the Old Synagogue, there was an antique push cart from which an enterprising Polish merchant was selling souvenirs to visitors when I visited in 2005. The souvenirs included carved wooden figures of Jews. One of the Jewish restaurants in Kazimierz had some of these wooden figures decorating their tables.

Souvenir stand in front of the Old Synagogue

Carved wooden statutes of Jews at Souvenir Stand

Interior of Old Synagogue

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