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The Star-Ledger, New Jersey, November 9, 1998

"The idea of a synagogue there is appropriate, and a dedication on Kristallnacht, a day when so many synagogues were destroyed, is even more appropriate."
MURRAY LAULICHT, West Orange man whose father was killed at Auschwitz.


On a windy day in 1994, nearly 50 years to the day after his father died in a Nazi labor camp, Murray Laulicht visited the site of the death camps at Auschwitz.

He remembers having trouble keeping his prayer candles lit during the solemn Kaddish prayer afterward and how inappropriate it felt to board a tour bus for the difficult ride back to Krakow, Poland.

For the tens of thousands of Jews who visit Auschwitz each year, there has been a place to grapple with the horror and anger that surface during a trip to one of the worst killing fields of World War II.

Tomorrow morning, a small group of Americans will gather with locals in Oswiecim (Auschwitz in Polish), where more than 1 million Jews were murdered, to dedicate the site of the first synagogue there since the Holocaust. The ceremony was timed to the 60th anniversary tonight of Kristallnacht, the infamous "Night of Broken Glass" when anti-Jewish violence orchestrated by the Nazis surged across Germany and Austria.

"The idea of a synagogue there is appropriate, and a dedication on Kristallnacht, a day when so many synagogues were destroyed, is even more appropriate," said Laulicht, who lives in West Orange and is president of the United Jewish Federation of MetroWest based in Whippany. "It will be a place where groups can go, not only to pray but to discuss what they have seen."

Officials of the Auschwitz Jewish Center Foundation which will spend $10 million to restore the Oswiecim Lomdei Mishnayot synagogue and build an educational center in an adjacent house, said they also plan a space that looks forward as much as backward.

"We wanted a place where Jews could go to deal with the camps, where they would be encouraged to focus on who the people were but also something that looked forward to life," said James Schreiber, chairman of the foundationís executive committee.

"This will be a place where people can go to study, so future generations have a better perspective on this," he added. "Hopefully, this will be one place where ethnic cleansing was not permitted to happen without severe moral denunciation."

Schreiber, a former federal prosecutor from New York who until last year was chief executive officer of Tuscan Dairies in Union, said the mixture of emotions Jews feel at Auschwitz cries out for a spiritual place rooted in Judaism."

"I remember the horror and shock of seeing the implements of abuse and murder," agreed U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), who visited Auschwitz in 1979 and will attend the dedication tomorrow in Poland. "I remember seeing the rail lines and imagining the separation of the families."

Lautenberg, a Jew whose fatherís family came to America from Poland early in this century, said he is particularly interested in seeing the center become a reminder of the thriving Jewish community that existed in Poland before the war.

More than 3 million Jews lived in Poland before the German invasion in 1939. Oswiecim, the Polish word for Auschwitz, was a small town that was home to roughly 7,000 Jews.

A dozen survivors of the town will attend the dedication, including Hirsch Kornreich of New York, who had his bar mitzvah in the synagogue shortly before he and his family were hauled off to the camp. He is the familyís lone survivor.

Despite serious and continuing conflicts between Catholics and Jews over Auschwitz, Schreiber said the foundation is pleased to have the support of the Roman Catholic Church in its efforts. Officials are negotiating the removal of a cross that commemorates a visit to the camp by Pope John Paul II, and a convent was recently relocated from the grounds.

After the 1939 invasion, the Germans turned an old Polish military base outside Oswiecim into a prison camp, and later built nearby Birkenau, also known as Auschwitz II, a factory of mass death for the purpose of exterminating Jews. It is the most infamous Nazi camp, where the killing apparatus was perfect and more than 1,25 million people were murdered, 90 percent of them Jews, according to the 1993 book, "The World Must Know" by Michael Bernebaum.

After the war, most of Polandís few remaining Jews fled or were murdered in subsequent pogroms. A spark of Jewish life remains, however, and researchers estimate there are now as many as 25,000 Polish Jews who have only recently begun rediscovering or practicing their faith openly.

In Oswiecim, however, there is no Jewish community.

"Clearly, we are building this synagogue for the transient Jewish community that visits Auschwitz," said Daniel Eisenstadt, executive director of the foundation. "As the only synagogue in the region, it may also be used on High Holy Days by Jews in the region of Bielsko-Biala."

Eisenstadt said the organization hopes the center will be finished in 18 months. The dedication tomorrow symbolizes the end of a five-year process during which the foundation secured the building, designed the center and won support from Polish government and church leaders.

It was the first piece of property to change hands under a new Polish law allowing Jewish organizations to reclaim public property seized by Germans during the war.

About 500,000 people visit the museum and grounds at Auschwitz each year, most of them from Poland and Germany. Somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 of the visitors are believed to be Jewish, including 30,000 from Israel.

Steven E. Some, Chairman of the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education, organizes annual visits of educators and politicians. He said on past trip, the group has said prayers at a marshy area called the White Ponds where the Nazis dumped the ashes of their victims from the crematoria.

"The significance of the synagogue is tremendous," Some said. "It clearly serves as a link to the Jewish community prior to the war, and now it serves as a place Jews can go when they visit Auschwitz. Nothing in life can compare to a visit to this place."

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