Synagogue, Kępno
Narodowy Instytut Dziedzictwa pl

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The synagogue (Jewish house of prayer) located in the former Jewish district is one of the few surviving structures of this type in Greater Poland. The synagogue was once the centre of the Jewish living space which towered above the rest of the buildings in the district. The original layout of cobbled streets and many period buildings - including the former bath house (the mikveh), the ritual slaughterhouse, the cheder (Jewish religious school) and separate houses of prayer for men and women have survived to the present day, albeit with some alterations. The synagogue itself, erected in years 1814-1815 in the Classicist style, retains its external appearance, even though much of the original detailing was lost. The interiors sustained heavy damage during World War II, with a fire which engulfed the building in 1974 destroying what little was left.

History

The first Jews have begun to settle in Kępno back in the late Middle Ages.

The first, wooden synagogue was erected here in 1689.

In 1793, the local Jewish community consisted of about 1200 individuals and had its own Talmud school, cemetery and infirmary.

The current synagogue was erected on the site of the previous one in years 1814-15. The construction process was conducted by the brothers Fryderyk and Karol Schleffer from Brzeg, who were both masters in the field of carpentry and masonry.

The building was renovated in 1893.

In years 1924-1926 the synagogue underwent renovation once again.

In years 1939-1945 the building was converted into a riding hall and then into a storage facility. The bema, the Torah Ark and other interior fixtures and fittings have all been destroyed in the process.

In 1955, the Historical Monument Conservation Workshop (PP PKZ) documented the building.

In 1974, a fire broke out inside the building, destroying the interiors, the wooden doors and windows as well as the roof truss.

A number of structural analyses were performed over the next few years. The upper section of the walls was rebuilt, with a new roof truss being constructed and the roof being clad with roof tiles. The window and door openings were appropriately secured. The building was to be adapted to serve as a museum. The annex and the front stairs were demolished.

Description

References to the town of Kępno in historical documents date back to as early as 1282, when it was mentioned as a ducal town. During the 14th century, a castle was erected here, with the funds being provided by Casimir the Great. From 1365 onwards, Kępno became a private town and has later gone through a period of stagnation when the nearby town of Baranów received municipal rights. The town of Kępno was chartered for the second time in 1660. Jews have begun to settle in Kępno back in the late Middle Ages. The first, wooden synagogue was erected here in 1689. In 1793, the Jewish community had 1200 members, which means that the number of Jewish and Catholic residents was virtually identical. Jews had their own Talmud school, cemetery and infirmary. The current synagogue was erected on the site of the previous one in years 1814-15. The construction process was conducted by the brothers Fryderyk and Karol Schleffer from Brzeg, who were both masters in the field of carpentry and masonry. The building was renovated in years 1893 and 1924-26. During the period of the Nazi occupation the synagogue suffered extensive damage; this applies, in particular, to its interiors, which were deprived of their unique fixtures and fittings, including the bema and the Torah Ark. The synagogue was converted into a riding hall and then into a warehouse. After the war ended, the synagogue fell into disrepair since it has not been afforded the protection it needed. In 1955, the Historical Monument Conservation Workshop (PP PKZ) documented the building. In 1974, a fire broke out inside the building, destroying the interiors as well as the roof truss. Following a number of studies carried out in the following years, the building was to be adapted to serve as an exhibition space. The upper section of the walls was secured and rebuilt where necessary, with a new roof being constructed as well. However, no further restoration works have been performed until this day. The lack of both funds and concepts for the function which the building could serve have meant that its contemplated revitalisation has ground to a bitter halt. Despite having been protected against the elements, the building’s condition continued to deteriorate.

Kępno is a district town located at the southern edge of the Greater Poland province. It lies by the Niesób river - a tributary of Prosna - at the junction of the roads leading from Wrocław to Warsaw and from Poznań to Katowice, with a number of important railway lines also converging here. The synagogue is located to the north-east of the market square, in the former Jewish district. The synagogue complex used to lie at the very centre of the entire district; it was around the synagogue that the surrounding living space would be organised. The surviving buildings which once formed part of the now-vanished Jewish district include the bath house (the mikveh), the slaughterhouse, the Jewish school (the cheder), the separate houses of prayer for men and women as well as several residential buildings. Many of these buildings have, to a varying degree, changed their appearance as a result of the alterations made over the years. The original street layout of the former Jewish district has also been preserved. The synagogue, designed in the Classicist style, faces the Łazienkowa street (formerly known as Łazienna street - Bath House street) in the west, with the rear facade facing Stara street. Built on a rectangular floor plan and featuring a compact, cuboid outline covered with a tall, steep hip roof, the synagogue features a basement underneath a part of its surface. The façade follows a five-axis design with an avant-corps incorporating an impressive portico positioned in the centre; the portico features two pairs of engaged columns supporting an entablature and a triangular pediment. Originally, the tympanum at the top incorporated a relief depicting two opposing griffins. The building features truncated corners adorned with pilasters. The portico was originally preceded by a monumental flight of steps which have been demolished at a later date. The interior originally consisted of a large prayer hall, designed on a square floor plan, with two staircases located by the western entrance. The bema occupied the centre of the prayer hall, with the Torah Ark positioned by the eastern wall. A women’s gallery which opened towards the prayer hall in a series of arches was located on the first floor. The hall originally featured a false cloister vault. Other sections featured barrel vaults with lunettes, with ordinary barrel vaults being used for the basement. Unfortunately, all of the surviving interior décor has been subsequently destroyed during a fire. Very little remains of the original, wooden doors and windows.

The building can be visited from the outside.

compiled by Teresa Palacz, Regional Branch of the National Heritage Board of Poland in Poznan, 06-03-2015.

Bibliography

  • Anders P., Województwo kaliskie, szkic monograficzny, Poznań 1983.
  • Łęcki Wł., Wielkopolska - słownik krajoznawczy, Poznań 2002.
  • Katalog Zabytków Sztuki w Polsce, Ruszczyńska T., Sławska A. (red.), t. 5, z. 7 pow. kępiński, s. 8, Warszawa 1958.
  • Janiszewski Józef ks., Powiat kępiński z mapą powiatu na podstawie różnych źródeł, Kępno 1928.
  • Kurzawa Jan, Nawrocki Stanisław, Dzieje Kępna, Kalisz 1982.

General information

  • Type: synagogue
  • Chronology: 1814-1815
  • Form of protection: register of monuments
  • Address: Łazienkowa 2, Kępno
  • Location: Voivodeship wielkopolskie, district kępiński, commune Kępno - miasto
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland

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