Future of historic Konin synagogue safe after owner swaps it with city officials for investment plot
The fate of a historic synagogue has been secured after its private owner swapped it with city officials in Konin for an investment plot.
Concerns over the future of the prominent 19th century synagogue, had been ongoing since it was bought by a private owner in 2011.
Although the buyer had promised to respect the synagogue’s Jewish heritage and the Poznań provincial register for the conservation of buildings assigned responsibility for the care of the building to the owner, concerns persisted about proposed developments, such as the demolition of the adjoining beis medresh (study hall), and how they might affect the city’s cultural heritage.
Of particular worry to locals and members of Poland’s present-day Jewish community and individuals abroad with familial connections to the pre-war Jewish community, was that its significance as an important element of Jewish culture would disappear.
Built between 1825-29 to replace an earlier wooden synagogue dating from 1763, the synagogue was once the centre of a large and thriving pre-war Jewish community who numbered 6,400 in 1883, just over half of the city’s total inhabitants at the time and who still accounted for a quarter of the city’s population in 1939.
One of the first synagogues to be built in a Moorish style, it survived the German occupation during World War II by serving the Nazis as a stable and store-room, after which it was repaired and designated a historic monument by the Polish authorities after the war.
Further work to restore the beautiful wall art and interior decorations was carried out by a team of local craftsmen in 1987, after which the Synagogue was used for many years as the location of the Konin Town Library, until 2012.
But it was only when a London-based Jewish man, whose grandfather had been born in Konin, visited that it was discovered that the city didn’t own the synagogue, and that it had been sold into private hands.
Looking to find out more about the synagogue it was found that the city had signed a 25 year lease with the Association of Jewish Municipalities in Warsaw, which allowed the city to previously use it as a public library and host events and concerts.
After the association had terminated the lease, the city had declared an interest in purchasing the building, but had learned that the synagogue had been sold by the Jewish community in Wrocław.
Now, after a decade of negotiations the city has managed to take possession after coming to an agreement with the owner to exchange it for an investment plot.
Piotr Korytkowski, President of the City of Konin said: “One of the most valuable monuments is returning under the authority of the local government of the City of Konin.
“It is a very important place for the history of the town, because Jewish culture and the Jewish community before the war, were very sizeable in our city.
“It is the identity of our city, which is why we have to take care of it.”
The city has now pledged to restore the synagogue to its former glory and transform it into a Jewish Cultural Centre.
Paweł Adamów, Vice-President of the City of Konin said: “The city wants to allocate the building for cultural purposes…Initial plans are to establish a Jewish cultural centre. We want it to be an important point on the tourist map.”
The city is currently awaiting approval of its funding application.