Polish Jews to Reopen Synagogue in Prewar Yeshiva Chachmei Lublin

No decision has been made yet on what to do with the rest of the building, returned to Jewish community in 2004.

LUBLIN, Poland - Poland's small Jewish community celebrates another step in its revival Sunday: the reopening of a synagogue in a yeshiva that before World War II was a major center of Jewish learning.

Poland's chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, will lead ceremonies in Lublin, in eastern Poland - before the war, home to a large and vibrant Jewish population that made up 40 percent of the overall population of 100,000.

Schudrich said the reopening of the synagogue in the Yeshiva Chachmei Lublin is a sign of the growing up of Poland's tiny Jewish community, which was the largest in Europe before World War II, but nearly destroyed by the Holocaust.

"It's also a symbol to me because no matter what we do. Yeshiva Chachmei Lublin will never be a place of Jewish learning as intense and as beautiful as it was before the war," Schudrich said.

"However, it doesn't mean we shouldn't try. However beautiful we can make the building, however vibrant we can make the building, will be a plus for the Jewish community, and Lublin and Poland."

Lublin was sometimes called the Jewish Oxford and the Polish Jerusalem because of its tradition of learning going back centuries.

The synagogue is housed within the yeshiva, an elegant six-story yellow building opened in 1930 by a renowned rabbi of the time, Meir Shapiro.

It operated until the 1939 invasion of Nazi Germany at the start of World War II as place where young Orthodox men pursued intensive studies of the Talmud, the collection of writings making up Jewish law.

When the Nazis took over Lublin, they stripped the interior and burned the vast library in the town square. After the war, it was used by a medical academy, but was returned to the Jewish community in 2004.

No decision has been made on what do to with the rest of the vast building. Ideas under consideration include building a center for the city's tiny Jewish community; building a museum of Hasidism, a branch of Orthodox Judaism; or a hotel that could serve as a base for those touring Jewish-related sites in Poland.

Joseph Friedenson, an 84-year-old former student of the yeshiva now living in New York City, said it was a source of great satisfaction to learn that his former school was getting new life related to his faith.

"It shows that Hitler did not succeed in destroying the Jewish religion,"Friedenson said by telephone. "It's not as strong as when I grew up," he said, adding, "but in the end, we survived."

Poland was home to about 3.3 million Jews before the war. Most of them perished in Nazi death camps and ghettos, and many of those who survived were later driven out by postwar violence and communist repression.