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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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."