The Polish Gentile Who Devoted Her Life to Preserving Abandoned Synagogues

December 2, 2020 | Jewish Heritage Europe
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Besides engaging in mass murder of Jews themselves, the Nazis often deliberately destroyed Jewish houses of worship and cemeteries. Numerous synagogues were also laid waste by the sheer devastation of World War II, and those that remained were neglected in a land with few Jews, ruled by a government that repressed Judaism. Despite all this, Maria and Maciej Piechotka spent much of their lives preserving and documenting Jewish religious architecture in their country. Maciej died in 2010 at the age of ninety, while his wife Maria died last month, just a few weeks after reaching the age of one hundred. Jewish Heritage Europe reports:

The Piechotkas were active in the World War II Polish resistance movement and took part in the 1944 Warsaw uprising [against the Nazis]. At the war’s end they began their efforts to record the architectural detail of destroyed buildings, with a special focus on wooden synagogues. The couple co-authored several books on the subject, including Wooden Synagogues, published in 1957 (with an English edition two years later), which has become the seminal work in the field.

One of the most important research resources on the history and heritage of Polish Jews, the book was updated and reprinted in the 1990s, and a new, expanded edition—in English and Polish—was published in 2016.

Maria was active well into her nineties. Among other things, she worked closely . . . on the creation of the replica of the elaborately painted ceiling of the cupola of the destroyed wooden synagogue in what was Gwozdziec, Poland. The replica is now the centerpiece installation of the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews [in Warsaw].

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