Update on state of Przemyśl synagogue: new challenges

 

Water damage on ceiling of the Scheinbach synagogue in Przemysl. Photo: Remembrance & Reconciliation

Water damage can be on ceiling of the Scheinbach synagogue in Przemysl. Photo: Remembrance & Reconciliation

 

Plans for the restoration of the Scheinbach Synagogue in Przemyśl, Poland and its transformation into a cultural center are facing new challenges, including structural damage to the building due to a leaking roof, reports Marla Raucher Osborn, a Warsaw-based member of the board of the Remembrance and Reconciliation Foundation, an American non-profit that restored the city’s surviving intact Jewish cemetery and hopes to convert the synagogue building into a Galician cultural center aimed at promoting Polish-Jewish-Ukrainian dialogue and education through historical, artistic, cultural, scientific, and religious events and exhibits. 

The new problems are prompting R & R to beef up fund-raising efforts and shift what funds have been collected to-date for the upkeep and maintenance of the nearby Przemyśl Jewish cemetery to the synagogue building repairs, she reports. An engineer also must be hired to assess the full extent of the damage and determine further steps.

 
R & R’s founder, Dr. John Hartman, visited Przemyśl earlier this month to check on the status of the Synagogue, located at 13 Słowackiego Street.

 
Built between 1910 and 1918, the synagogue was used as a stable by the Nazis, then a textile warehouse after WW2. Since the late 1960s it has housed the city’s public Library: the Library recently moved out to new premises. The building was restituted back to Jewish ownership (via the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage, or FODŻ) in 2006; the city of Przemyśl has been paying rent on the building, and under the terms of its lease its obligations to pay rent and perform routine maintenance continue through 2016. (FODŻ leased the building to the City for a period of 20 years, with the option to terminate early, which the City exercised, hence the 2016 termination date.)

 

Raucher Osborn reports that during his visit, Dr. Hartman toured the now-empty synagogue and met with city officials and local educational and cultural groups.

 

Unfortunately, what Dr. Hartman discovered during a tour of the vacant building with the Library Director and on-site custodian, was that roof leaks over successive rainy seasons [have] caused damage on some parts of the upper floors. Roof repairs were last performed by a professional in 1997 to the wood frame and tin covering. According to Dr. Hartman, water has been coming into the attic for some time, which the City attempted to minimize by placing black plastic sheeting along the attic edges. This apparently did not adequately do the job, and water was still getting in. Following a visual inspection from outside the building, Dr. Hartman also [said] that there appeared to be problems with the metal flashing around the roof edges [and] this too may have contributed to the water damage in the interior. The acid from pigeon droppings, eating away at the wood, may also be a contributory factor. Fortunately, the ground floor of the building appears to be in relatively good condition and unaffected.

 

Hartman said these unanticipated (and potentially expensive) problems will adversely affect R&R’s hopes of quickly opening the planned Galician Culture Center. Also, he said,  based on his conversations with Przemyśl’s Vice Mayor, R&R probably cannot realistically hope for any support to come from the City. R&R’s original hope had been to immediately begin planning programs and engaging these locals as soon as the City moved the Library out. By pushing an ambitious opening timetable for the Center, they hoped, the period in which the synagogue building would stand vacant could be minimized, as would deterioration and the potential for vandalism. A number of local groups, schools, educators, and religious organizations have already expressed interest in being involved.  

At a meeting at the office of FODŻ in Warsaw:

It was agreed that hiring a professional engineer to survey the extent of the water damage to the building (and perhaps uncover other maintenance issues) must be given top priority. This, of course, requires money which neither R&R nor FODZ currently has. Nor are there funds to make the repairs once the engineer’s report is made and submitted.

Hartman also noted that the building adjacent to the synagogue – which was the pre-WW2 house of the rabbi – is up for sale. Unlike the frescoes in the synagogue which were painted over by the City (but possibly recoverable in a future renovation), the rabbi house frescoes appear to be still intact and visible, he said.
Facade of Scheinbach synagogue in Przemyśl. Photo: FODŻ

Facade of Scheinbach synagogue in Przemyśl. Photo: FODŻ