POLAND - Restored Synagogue Recalls Thriving Jewish Life

Arno Froese

The Auschwitz Jewish Center opened in 2000 in Oswiecim, the sleepy town less than a mile from  the notorious concentration camp. It includes a museum with thousands of artifacts, a small café that also functions as a community center and a synagogue that is the only one remaining from Oswiecim’s Jewish heyday.

For centuries before the Holocaust, this town of around 40,000 situated about 30 miles east of Krakow had a large and vibrant Jewish community, with no fewer than 20 synagogues. About 8,500 of the town’s pre-Holocaust population of 14,000 was Jewish.

Now, not a single Jew lives in Oswiecim. But the Chevra Lomdei Mishnayot synagogue, built in 1913 and a gathering place for the few dozen local Jews who survived the Holocaust, hosts prayer services for the visitors who depart from the typical Auschwitz itinerary and venture into town. While there is no resident rabbi, the synagogue does keep a kosher Torah scroll in its ark.

“If it weren’t for the museum, very few people would even know that a Jewish community had existed here for 400 years, its memory would have been disappeared just like what happened to thousands of communities across Poland,” said Shlomi Shaked, the Facebook group’s Israeli founder, whose mother was born in Oswiecim.

In July, Nava Meir Kopel, a pensioner from the town of Nes Tziona near Tel Aviv, recognized her cousin, Kuba Zajdband, in a photo taken in Oswiecim in 1957 and uploaded to the Facebook group.

“Seeing him there is just moving beyond words,” Meir Kopel wrote.

Some of the Jews with roots in Oswiecim are donating family photos to the Auschwitz Jewish Center. The museum uses the artifacts it collects—from family photos and memorabilia to elaborate chandeliers found under the synagogue’s floorboards, potentially hidden there by local Jews who would never return—to educate visitors.

“We prayed there together, with groups from all over the world, and I had a powerful, strong experience,” said 20-year-old Ayalah Gura, who visited the Oswiecim synagogue with her school from Israel in 2019. “I realized that mitzvahs, Jewish culture, faith, they’re all for a greater goal, a common denominator. The togetherness I experienced there was overwhelming but also positive. I felt as though I’d rediscovered Judaism and prayer.”

-www.jpost.com, 18 November 2021

Arno's Commentary

The tragedy of the Holocaust is indescribable. Families, villages, towns, even portions of cities were totally eliminated—vanished into thin air. But this restored synagogue calls to memory what once was, although it no longer is. 

Reading the article, one remembers the words of Malachi 3:16: “Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name.”

Arno Froese is the executive director of Midnight Call Ministries and editor-in-chief of the acclaimed prophetic magazines Midnight Call and News From Israel. He has authored a number of well-received books, and has sponsored many prophecy conferences in the U.S., Canada, and Israel. His extensive travels have contributed to his keen insight into Bible prophecy, as he sees it from an international perspective.

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