Wooden Synagogues

The surviving wooden synagogues of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth are now all that remains of a completely unique piece of European architectural history. Belonging entirely in conception, style and decoration to the Jewish Communities that built them, these extraordinary buildings are therefore singularly significant as remnants of a lost architectural typology and as the only surviving representatives of a built heritage that was once common across Eastern Europe.

As such, one would expect their continued conservation and preservation to be a paramount concern – and so it has been. There are now several superb books on the subject and a number of Jewish and non-Jewish organisations, regional, national and international, have, in recent years, highlighted the plight of these quite ordinary-looking buildings to the world. Despite this, their rural locations, the dispersal of communities to tend for them and a lack of co-ordinated European effort, have conspired to bring them to the edge of extinction as built heritage. Increasingly, however, the academic work that has been done has continued to further our understanding and appreciation of these buildings, resulting in a number of large scale reconstructions, models and replications of the decorative finishes of the interiors.

This itinerary, therefore, has a dual purpose, to provide an overview of the architectural history of these extraordinary buildings and provide a comprehensive list of the places where the surviving structures and the replicas may be seen and enjoyed. It is also an underlying call to action regarding the conservation of the remaining buildings. Notes on the current conservation status, contact details for those who are engaged in campaigning and preservation have also, therefore, been included.

These buildings are all that remains of a singularly Jewish building type. If we do not act swiftly, they may disappear forever, severing a link that stretches back centuries. The AEPJ is committed to working with its Eastern European partners to help save these buildings – please contact us for more information and how to help.

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