Wersal Podlaski (The Podlasie Versailles) is one of the most magnificent 18th-century palace and park complexes in Poland, once owned by the Branicki family; the town hall and the 18th-century army commander's armoury; the former parish church, dating from the 17th century and the Neo-Gothic cathedral (1905); the Orthodox Christian Church of St Nikolaus with replicas of frescos from the Kiev Sobor (1846); the church of St Roch (1927), one of the most interesting instances of modernist sacral architecture; the 19th-century palace of the Ruediger Family in Dojlidy.
Rynek Sienny - ul. Piekna (the piaski district house of prayer) - ul. Suraska - the Site of the Great Synagogue - ul. Zamenhofa - ul. Warynskiego (the cytron family house of prayer) - ul. Warszawska - ul. Branickiego (samuel mohilever's house of prayer) - the New Jewish Cemetery.
First accounts of Jewish settlement in Bialystok date from 1658 to 1661. In 1692 there was abranch of the kahal of the Tykocin community operating in Bialystok to serve the needs of local Jews. Along with the rapid development of the town in the second half of the 19th century, its Jewish community grew in size, reaching 70% of the localpopulation (61,500) in 1913.
In the 1930sthe Bialystok Jewish quarter stretched over the territory west of the Branicki Palace and south of Rynek Kosciuszki and ul. Marszalka Pilsudskiego (today renamed ul. Lipowa). Life was concentrated mainly around Rynek Rybny (The Fish Market), now Osiedle Centrum, and Rynek Sienny (The Hay Market). It absorbed the oldest district called Shulhof, as well as the Chorshul district, established in the second half of the 19th century and named after the Choral Synagogue located in that part of the town. Shulhof was the central area, containing streets such as ul. Lipowa, ul. Suraska, ul. Mikolajewska (now ul. Sienkiewicza), as well as the valley of the River Biala. It was inhabited by Orthodox Jews, the Great Synagogue being its focal point. Chorshul was made up of streets such as ul. Kupiecka (now ul. Malmeda) and ul. Gieldowa (now ul. Spoldzielcza). In 1939 the Rabbi of Bialystok was Gedali Rozenman. There were approximately 100 synagogues and houses of prayer. The examples of Jewish culture in Bialystok bear testimony to the glory as well as to the poverty within the local Jewish population.
Rynek Sienny (the Hay Market)
There are several places of interest in the area around Rynek Sienny. On the west side, from ul. Mlynowa, you will find afew pre-war buildings containing old shops with shutters. The paving is also authentic. The little streets leading away from the market (ul. Udeska, ul. Cyganska, ul. Olowiana) are also worth alook. Depressing, though picturesque, these ramshackle houses tilting towards the streets, or rather paths, are not so much atourist attraction as testimony to the way the quarter used to look. Maurycy Szymel captured this in hispoem In the Jewish Provinces:
"Cottages sway like women walking in their sleep
And winding little streets run down in panic deep".
Be sure to take alook before the bulldozers working on the other side of the square make their way here.
Piaskover Beit Midrash (the Piaski District House of Prayer)
At ul. Piekna 3, apretty little street on the northern side of the Rynek Sienny, you will find one of the three synagogue buildings still existing in Bialystok.
At present it houses "Wersal Podlaski", the firm which carried out athorough reconstruction after afire in 1989. The edifice, which dates from around 1893,replaced the wooden synagogue built here in 1820. This main House of Prayer in the Piaski District functioned until the Second World War. From 1945 it was the centre of the Jewish community and from 1948 it was home to the Social-Cultural Society of Jews in Poland. From 1968 the building was left empty, and adozen or so years later it burned down. The outside walls, vaults and windows are part of its original features. The front wall has been recreated with the help of old photographs. The only remaining elements of the original interior decor are the recess for the aron ha-kodesh (behind the reception) and the cast iron columns in the hall, which support the gallery. The roof is totally different from that of the original building and dates from 1994.
The remains of the old building can be viewed in the reception hall open during working hours.
Ulica Mlynska, photo: A.Olej&K. Kobus:
Ul. Suraska runs to the north of Rynek Sienny. At one time it was the main street of the Shulhof district. Avisitor may be somewhat bemused by the total inconsistency in pre-war accounts of the place. While some people emphasised the street'spicturesque nature, others saw "long and winding backyards, across which you can sometimes walk through several household between shabby huts and pigsties. Often without any gates, everything here is wide-open; asorrysight of human misery..."
Unfortunately, there are no "huts and pigsties" here any more, as in the 1950sthe street was turned into asocialist-realist promenade with each and every element completely lacking in taste. The only gate you can enter is the one to the right of Rynek Kosciuszki. On the housing estate erected on the site of former ul. Glucha, ul. Gesia and ul. Ciemna, there once stood the Great Synagogue, situated at ul. Boznicza 14.
The Site of the Great Synagogue
This square, now situated in the yard, is one of the most important places in the history of the Jews of Bialystok. Here you will find amemorial reminiscent in shape of the synagogue'sdome twisted by flames. It was designed by Samuel Solasz from the United States and Michal Flikier from the Białystok Society in Israel. The inscription recalls the tragedy: "This magnificent holy shrine of ours fell victim to flame on 27 June 1941, and 2000 Jews were burnt alive by the German murderers".
Somewhere here, in what is now acar park, once stood the oldest synagogue in Bialystok, founded in 1715. It was built of wood and had nosection for women. The Great Synagogue was erected on the same spot, its construction taking from 1909 to 1913. Funds were collected from the charges for kosher meat and also from donations. The result was asquare building, characteristic, though reflecting no particular style. Its most striking feature was amassive dome with aspire. The alcoves were crowned with other domes in Neo-Byzantine style. It also had Neo-Gothic windows. There were galleries for women on three sides.
The easiest way to get here is from ul. Legionowa, between houses 14, 16 and 18.
on the internet
The texts presented here were originally published in the guide Where the Tailor Was a Poet...
, by Adam Dylewski (Pascal).
After crossing ul. Lipowa you should make your way towards ul. Zamenhofa, which runs through the territory of the second of the old Jewish quarters, known as Chorshul.
The Choral Synagogue, built in 1834, was in ul. Zydowska (Jewish Street), now Bialowny. It was renowned for its magnificently decorated interior. The Germans burnt it down in 1943. Apart from afew old houses (ul. Zamenhofa 19, 20 and 25), the most important spot here is the birth place of Ludwik Zamenhof (on the corner of ul. Biala, and according to the present numbering system ul. Zamenhofa 22). Until the Second World War a "small, green, wooden house" stood here, and you could sign your name in amemorial book.
Ludwik Lazar Zamenhof (18591917) was brought up in a wealthy family. His father was a language teacher and one of the founders of the Choral Synagogue. Having already become a respected oculist, Ludwik Zamenhof decided to create Esperanto, an artificial language, the name of which means 'having hope'. In 1887 he began publishing textbooks from which people could learn this language based on two thousand elements taken from Romanic, Germanic and Slavonic languages. The title of his fundamental work, which consisted of a grammar book and a dictionary, was An International Language.
From Zamenhof'shouse you have achoice of two routes. The first takes you through the area of the former Chorshul, with streets such as ul. Kupiecka (ul. Malmeda) and Gieldowa (ul. Spoldzielcza), to ul. Warynskiego. On your way you will pass old houses randomly situated among the post-war buildings. Ul. Warynskiego, the nicest in the town centre, leads to the Cytron Family House of Prayer. The second option is awalk in the direction of ul. Sienkiewicza and the bridge on the River Biała. On the other side of the river you will find ul. Warszawska, aformer promenade with palaces and houses once belonging to factory owners. Nearby, in ul. Branickiego, you will find the third remaining synagogue building.
Cytron Beit Midrash (the Cytron Family House of Prayer)
The building was completed and ready for use just before the outbreak of the Second World War. The governor of the Bialystok region took part in the opening ceremony. The founders also raised 75,000 zl. for the purchase of an aircraft for the Polish armed forces.
During the war the synagogue was within the borders of the ghetto and performed religious services illegally. After 1945 it also served the Jewish community as aplace of mourning as well as astage for theatre performances. It functioned until the 1960s, when it was turned into atailoring co-operative. In 1993 part of the building was taken over by the Slendzinski Gallery.
The Cytron Family House of Prayer, photo: A.Olej&K. Kobus:
The synagogue's original decor bore testimony to the high social status of its founders. The ceilings were made of exotic wood. The paintings depicted biblical themes as well as animal and plant motifs. Itscandelabrum for 150 candles was awork of art. The interior of the synagogue was later destroyed. Sad to say, the coffered wooden ceiling adorned with paintings was removed as recently as 1979. Thelarge building next door to the former house of prayer (now the Bialostoczanka tailoring co-operative) was once home to the Druskin High School, an educational institution well-known before the Second World War.
Ul. Warynskiego 24a. The street name suddenly changes, but you should go straight on up to al. Pilsudskiego and then cross over. Such streets, some what oddly broken up, are a consequence of the post-war reconstruction of Bialystok's transport system. Visiting these places, now considerably altered, is rather complicated as they have been divided up among several different companies. Not much remains of the former interior. Alook inside the Slendzinski Gallery where you can find atext about the history of the building should suffice. Open 10am-5pm.
Bialystok's dynamic development, similar to that of Lodz, brought about the transformation of ul. Warszawska into an attractive promenade where nouveau riche factory owners erected their magnificent palaces. The Cytron House built from 1905 to 1914 is representative of an Art Nouveau style rarely found in Bialystok. It was erected as a memorial to the success achieved by Samuel Hersh Cytron, the maker of the family fortune. In the 1930s his son and heir Benjamin also lived here. Berek Polak's house at ul. Warszawska 50 has a Neo-Renaissance style facade. It belonged to awell-known Bialystok factory owner whose plant was at the back of the building. From 1941, adorned with the Star of David, it served as the headquarters of the Gestapo.
Ul. Branickiego runs parallel to ul. Warszawska and also very close to the River Biala. Here, at No 3, you will find the former Beit Shmuel (the progressive synagogue of Great Rabbi Samuel Mohilever). It was erected in 1902 outside the former Jewish quarter. The synagogue was burnt down during the war and rebuilt afterwards. Avisit to the backyard is all that is necessary. Only from here will you see the contours of the original windows; the facade having been remodelled. From this side you can also see the recess for the aron ha-kodesh, not visible from the inside. The building now belongs to alocal sports club.
The New Jewish Cemetery
There were four Jewish cemeteries in Bialystok and the only one to remain is in the attractive suburban district of Wygoda. It was established in 1890. The matzevot which survived the Second World War occupy one sixth of its area. The location is well mantained although partly overgrown with shrubs.
The cemetery is located in ul. Wschodnia, opposite house No 43. Access by buses # 3, 9, 27 and 100. Get off after the Wasilkowo-Krynki road junction, four stops after the bridge over the River Biala. The walk from the bus-stop to ul. Wschodnia takes 15 minutes. The gate is open.
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