When the Jewish community of Poznan was big enough, in the mid-late C19th, they built two communities. The Reform Jews built a synagogue in the Moorish style (1856–7). In 1862 they elected their own rabbi, Joseph Perles. Perles, who later wrote a history of Poznań’s Jewish community, was succeeded in 1872 by Philipp Bloch, who served until 1921.
New Synagogue, Stawna St Poznan, opened in 1906
Built in 1906 and consecrated in 1907, New Synagogue was in the centre of Poznan's Old City; in fact the stunning copper-plated dome could be seen from all over town. New Synagogue was a lavish structure for 1,200 congregants with a floor plan based on the Greek cross. The building materials were bricks, granite (used for the plinth surrounding the synagogue) and steel (used for the dome and gallery). The spacious interior of the prayer hall, covered with a 20m high internal cupola resting on massive pillars, was broadened by an arcade opening inwards. This suggested the interior of ancient Byzantine cupola basilicas.
Built at a cost of one million marks, the stunning building was financed exclusively by local Jewish philanthropists. It was beautiful, inside and out.
When WW1 broke out, Poznan was heavily militarised. But as the war was ending and Germany was in retreat, the Great Poland Uprising (1918-9) and the subsequent treaty of Versailles returned most of the province of Posen to the newly established Polish nation. Poznan became once again a Polish city and the capital of the province. Most of the German population left Poznan for Germany.
To modern historians, it seems ironic that the defeat of Germany in World War I and the annexation of Poznan by Poland was perceived by the Jewish community as a shock.
New Synagogue interior
facing the holy ark
Nazi invasion in 1939 re-made Poznan a German city; the German authorities started to Germanise Poznan once again, expelling 100,000 Polish citizens to central Poland and bringing German settlers back into the city. During World War Two much of Poznan was destroyed, including over 90% of the Old Town, and almost the entire Jewish community of 3,000 citizens were slaughtered.
In 1940, this beautiful building was commandeered by the Nazis and redeveloped into a swimming pool-rehabilitation centre for Wehrmacht soldiers. Although the main architectural features of the building were not destroyed, the stunning dome was eliminated. Even today the synagogue’s exterior is largely intact, although without dome, tiles and handsome brickwork, it might look like a rather ordinary picture theatre. Or a rather ordinary swimming pool complex.
Legislation passed by the Polish Parliament in 1997 mandated that a formerly Jewish community facility can only be reclaimed by the Jewish community, through a recognised umbrella organisation. While this is a fair requirement, it is problematic, since most Jewish families in Poznan had been obliterated during WW2.
Swimming pool complex in the New Synagogue building Poznan, 2010
functional but ugly.
The synagogue was returned to the Jewish community in 2002 yet it still functions as a municipal pool. I have heard of plans to convert the old synagogue back into a Jewish community centre complete with prayer halls, kosher restaurant, library, theatre and conference facilities. However the Jewish community is tiny and the costs are too high. What a terrible loss, both culturally and architecturally, for a nation where Jewish citizens constituted 10% of the total population as recently as 1939 .