Accepted Paper:

Abandoned spaces of non-existing synagogues: an anthropological approach to the uncertain role of sacred places  


Kaja Kajder (Jagiellonian University)

Paper Short Abstract:

This presentation concerns abandoned spaces of the old Jewish prayer houses in Poland in the context of sacralization and secularization. I will focus on the case of Mordechai Tigner Synagogue in Krakow and reflect how this former prayer house is currently perceived and experienced within the city.

Paper long abstract:

There were 120 Jewish prayer houses in Krakow before World War II (according to the Jewish Religious Community in Krakow), the town was inhabited by a population of 65,000 Jews in 1939. Nowadays, only one of the synagogues is active, the other six are the tourist facilities, community centers, museums. Radical changes of the sacred character of houses of prayer were caused mainly by the tragic events of World War II. Most of them were destroyed during the war or changed their purpose after it.

The presentation will include an analysis of the case study of the former Mordechai Tigner Synagogue, which was partly devastated at the beginning of the war. Postwar it served as a textile warehouse and a rehearsal hall for Musical Theater. Now the building remains in a state of disrepair.

The speech is an attempt to reflect on how the former house of prayer's space is currently perceived and experienced. What happens with a place associated with religion after being abandoned the followers? Whether its sacred character is preserved in the memory of people associated with this place - neighbors, members of the Jewish Religious Community in Krakow, tourists? Or perhaps, in these circumstances, we can investigate a process of secularization? How is inclusion and exclusion of some spaces from local/national heritage correlated with inhabitants' collective memory and identity? For comparison, I will refer to the examples of other synagogues in Krakow which are actively co-creating memory of the Jewish history and culture of the city.

Panel Reli02
Dwelling and creating within and across religious traditions (SIEF Ethnology of Religion Working Group Panel)