Report #14 about Roberta Books and Marysia Galbraith’s trip to meet Polish partners in preparation for the ADJCP‘s memorial visit to central Poland.

Izbica Kujawska, September 15

Our contact in Izbica Kujawska, Premysław Nowicki, was called out of town and unable to meet us. He did, however, affirm his willingness to help us plan our memorial visit to the town.

Roberta and I stopped by anyway on our way to Kowal. We wanted to see the synagogue, one of the few remaining in the region and only the second we visited that retains the external appearance of a synagogue. According to an article in Izbica Kujawska Online, found by ADJCP member Michael Schoenholtz, the Jewish Community of Wrocław sold the building in 2007 to a businessman who renovated it and restored some features of the prewar exterior. The exact use of the building wasn’t decided yet. Originally, it was intended for “social and cultural purposes,” but in 2014 the when the article was written, it was being used as a warehouse for the neighboring Biedronka, a discount grocery store.

West side of the Izbica Kujawska synagogue

Eight years later, instead of serving social and cultural purposes or being used as a warehouse, the building houses a clothing store. The exterior retains the distinctive appearance of a synagogue with tall, curve-topped windows and a Star of David motif at the top of metal grates over the windows. This solid stone structure stands tall enough to have two or three stories, though doubtless the sanctuary was originally open to the ceiling with a women’s gallery reached by a staircase.

Window grates adorned with the Star of David 

The exterior has been restored to its original glory, with the anachronistic addition of an electronic sign mounted high on its façade. Scrolling red letters advertise suits, shoes, and other forms of clothing. We had to walk all the way around the building to the western side to find the entrance. Without any sign beside the door, I expected it to be locked, but I tried entering anyway. It opened.

The interior looks nothing like a synagogue. The grey-painted space is broken up by large square columns, and although there is a high ceiling it doesn’t go up all the way to the roof. Stairs to the left behind a glass partition lead to an upper story. The former sanctuary is packed with racks of clothing for men, women, and children. A passageway at the back leads directly into the Biedronka.

Th south side of the synagogue connects with a Biedronka discount grocery store. An electronic sign advertises the offerings in the clothing store

Roberta offered to buy me something. She said that she did something similar in the store she imagined was in the same location as her grandfather’s butcher shop in Przedecz. She went in a bought a red hat. She never wore it.

I feel ambivalent about the presence of a store in a synagogue. On the one hand, it is a kind of erasure of the Jewish presence in the town. On the other, the restored exterior provides public evidence of the former Jewish community. Sadly, no Jewish population remains to frequent the building as a house of worship.

Because the building meets the contemporary needs of the current town residents, it continues to be cared for. Its roof remains intact and its walls strong, unlike the ruin in Żychlin. And unlike the Włocławek synagogues that were burned on Rosh Hashanah when the Nazis invaded, leaving no trace behind. Still, a more appropriate use would be for it to serve social and educational functions like the heritage center in the Lubraniec synagogue.

What do you think? How do you feel about shopping in a synagogue? Old houses of worship are repurposed all the time. The former synagogue in Tuscaloosa became a private residence until it was torn down several years ago to make way for an apartment complex. Are some uses more appropriate than others?