A pre-burial house of the Jewish community, currently the Centre for Inter-cultural Dialogue (MENDELSOHN'S HOUSE) along with a gardener's house and an adjacent Jewish cemetery., Olsztyn
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A pre-burial house of the Jewish community, currently the Centre for Inter-cultural Dialogue (MENDELSOHN'S HOUSE) along with a gardener's house and an adjacent Jewish cemetery.

Olsztyn

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The pre-burial house (Bet Tahara) and the gardener's house constitute the first, youthful implementation of a design by Erich Mendelsohn, a world-famous architect born in Olsztyn. The structures, and the pre-burial house in particular, with interior decoration elaborated in detail, are of high architectural and artistic value. The whole complex, along with the cemetery, connected with the Jewish commune of Olsztyn, constitutes important evidence of the history of Jewish diaspora in Eastern Prussia.

History

The first Jews settled in Olsztyn in 1813. The Jewish cemetery was created already in that year or in 1818; in 1882, the community bought additional land and the cemetery was extended. In years 1912–1913, at the edge of the cemetery area, a pre-burial house (Hebrew: Bet Tahara) was erected, as well a smaller gardener's house for the carer of the graveyard. Both buildings were designed by Erich Mendelsohn born in Olsztyn, to an assimilated Jewish family — later, a world-famous architect, creator of expressionist style in architecture (so-called Einstein's tower in Potsdam), and an eminent modernist architect (designs in the then Germany, England, United States, Israel). It is the first and only design of the artist implemented in his home city. The cemetery complex in Olsztyn is the implementation of the diploma design by young Mendelsohn, prepared under the supervision of Teodor Fischer on the Technical University of Munich (1912). In line with its purpose, the pre-burial house served the needs of the Jewish community which existed in Olsztyn until 1942/1943. After 1945, the empty building remained in hands of the Reich Association (Union) of Jews in Germany. In 1951, both buildings were taken over by the National Archives in Olsztyn, and were used as workshops and storages; when converted for the warehouse purposes, the pre-burial house was divided into two storeys. In 1971, a connecting section between the pre-burial house and the gardener's house was built (removed after 2007). Matzevot and grave stones on the cemetery lasted until the end of the 1960s; then, they were destroyed, and the site was earmarked for "municipal park". In mid-1990s, the archives left the buildings, and late in the decade, an association from Olsztyn, "Borussia", started to care of Bet Tehara. Thanks to that, in 2006, comprehensive safeguarding, research, construction, conservation, and restoration works were started that restored historic features and made them more discernible, i.e. the original layout and decoration of the interior. At present, the pre-burial house is used to hold events connected with the agenda of the MENDELSOHN'S HOUSE Centre for Inter-Cultural Dialogue, and the former gardener's house contains offices of "Borussia". The cemetery has been fenced.

Description

The Jewish cemetery and the buildings designed by Mendelsohn are located on the western side of the old municipal complex, in the area of historic so-called lower suburb, at a side street of Grundwaldzka Street. The cemetery occupies a large plot on a rectangular plan, it features old-growth trees and trees planted along the borders. The pre-burial house and gardener's house are arranged in a row along the street. Both are built on a rectangular floor plan (the gardener's house is slightly smaller), they are single-storey and simple, compact, cuboid in shape, covered with a hip roof in the case of the first building, while the second one is covered with a lower, tented roof. They are made of brick, plastered, with roof tiles. The façades are plain, accentuated only by narrow, rectangular window openings, arranged in a regular pattern of four-and-two in Bet Tahara. The shorter façades of Bet Tahara feature wide door openings enabling to carry in the corpse, and then — take it to the cemetery. The interior layout is axial, symmetrical, adjusted to the needs of pre-burial ceremony. Over the central, square room separated on the sides by pairs of pillars, there is a pyramid-shaped vault with shallow coffers. The walls, pillars, and vault are uniform in colour (black and violet), and modestly decorated with mosaic stripes in cobalt and emerald. Coffer plates feature ornaments in the centre which become a colourful decoration resembling carpet motifs in the uppermost section of the vault. The forms and colours of the ornaments are connected with the Mendelsohn's membership in a famous artistic group, Blaue Reiter (Blue Rider). The terrazzo floor and uppermost section of the pyramid feature Stars of David.

Accessible structure. A public building — seat of the MENDELSOHN'S HOUSE Centre for Inter-Cultural Dialogue. The complex is administered by the "Borussia" Cultural Community Association. Before visiting in a larger group, it is recommended to register at the number +48 89 523 72 93 or by e-mail: sekretariat@borussia.pl

Detailed information on the following webpage: www.borussia.pl

Compiled by Joanna Piotrowska, Regional Branch of the National Heritage Board of Poland in Olsztyn, 15.09.



Bibliography

  • A. Rzempołuch, Architektura i urbanistyka Olsztyna 1353-1953. Od założenia miasta po odbudowę ze zniszczeń wojennych, Olsztyn 2005, s. 138-141.
  • R. Bętkowski, Gmina żydowska w Olsztynie, cz. 1-7, „Debata” 2013, nr 5-11.
  • www.borussia.pl/index.php?p=pg&id=29

General information

  • Type: sacral architecture
  • Chronology: 1912-1913
  • Form of protection: register of monuments
  • Address: 2 , Olsztyn
  • Location: Voivodeship warmińsko-mazurskie, district Olsztyn, commune Olsztyn
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland

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