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TRACES OF THE PAST

Wlodawa

Yiddish: Vladova, Vlodova, Vlodave


Tourist Attractions
The Pauline Monastery (1711-1717); St Louis Church (1739-1780) with its Rococo decorations; the Uniate Church (1840-1842) with the parish house; the trader and butcher stalls from the second half of the 18th century, later remodelled, the cemetery of insurgents of the 1863 Uprising; Lake Biale with numerous holiday centres. Be sure to take awalk along the River Bug, particularly up past the church in Orchowek. The beauty of this river is areal feast for the eyes. Belarus is on the opposite bank.


Several examples of Judaica worth aspecial trip have been preserved in this beautiful borderland town (Belarus and Ukraine begin just outside it). What is more, it has all been organised in such away that you can combine your visit with aspot of relaxation in really beautiful surroundings.
The Wlodawa Jewish community, which was under the jurisdiction of the Brest kahal, emerged at the turn of the 17th century. It quickly developed thanks to trade with Ukraine and Wlodawa's location near the Chelm'Brest railway line. At the outbreak of the Second World War 5,650 Jews (61% of the local population) lived here. The Jewish quarter consisted of the following streets: ul. Wyrkowska (now ul. Tysiaclecia Panstwa Polskiego), ul. Solna (now ul. Czerwonego Krzyza), ul. Okuninska, ul. Furmanska, ul. Kozia (now ul. Witosa) and ul. Chelmska. A side from its two synagogues, the town was home to two prayer houses, a kahal house, a Talmud-Torah and a ritual bath. The Wlodawa cemetery was situated between what is now ul. Jana Pawla II and ul. Reymonta. The gravestones were removed by the Germans and used for paving the streets and building embankments on the River Wlodawka. Mendele Morgenstern was the last rabbi of Wlodawa. Taking the train to Wlodawa is not recommended as the railway station is located 5 km from the town.

The Museum in the Synagogue Complex
The main tourist attraction in Wlodawa is the well-preserved synagogue complex situated in the area of ul. Korolewska, ul. Czerwonego Krzyza and ul. Holoda.
The museum located here offers a good selection of brochures and objects related to the town Jewish past. The beth ha-midrash dating from 1928 houses the museum offices and storerooms.
Muzeum Pojezierza Leczynsko-Wlodawskiego (The Leczynsko-Wlodawskie Lake District Museum), ul. Czerwonego Krzyza 7, phone +82 5722178. Open 10am-5pm, Sat and Sun 10am-2pm. Tickets 2 and 5 zl. Sundays admission free.

The Great Synagogue
This mighty building was erected between 1764 and 1774, partly thanks to support from the Czartoryski Foundation. The architect is thought to have been P.A. Fontana. In the second half of the 19th century a second floor over the vestibule and alcove was added. The Germans demolished the interior and turned it into a storehouse, which functioned here until as recently as 1970. Acomplete overhaul was then begun and the museum was finally opened in 1986. The richness of the front elevation is amazing.

The Great Synagogue

The building is rectangular in shape (25.9m by 30.6m) with the prayer hall occupying its central part covered with a mansard roof. On the two sides of the main prayer hall there are sections for women, each with an attic. At the front there is a vestibule, above which there is the third women's prayer room with adjacent arcaded alcoves. Unique, rich adornments are the greatest attraction of the synagogue's interior. They date from 1934, when they replaced the original furnishings destroyed in a fire.

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The symbolic meaning of the beautifully decorated aron ha-kodesh is worth decoding. In the upper part two griffins are expressing their adoration for the Tablets of the Covenant, surmounted, as the inscription tells us, with the Crown of the Torah. The interior of the tablets contains a skylight giving the effect of the light of the Torah. Lower down there is a representation of a menorah. The inscription above it reads: "In reverence will Ibow down toward your holy temple" (Psalms 5:8) and the inscription below: "And soon, in our days, the Saviour shall come unto Zion. Amen". A fruit basket on the left-hand side of the menorah symbolises the festival of Shavuot (inscription: "The first fruits of the field"). On the right side we can see hands making a blessing (inscription: "the minister's blessing"). The adornments of the aron ha-kodesh itself are as follows: on both sides of the recess for the Torah scrolls there are images of musical instruments with texts from Psalm 150: "Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with tambourine and dancing, praise him with the strings and flute". The engravings in the medallions from the 18th century original decor of the synagogue depict the following: symbols of the festival of Sukkot (edge of the eastern wall); a stork fighting with serpents - piety overcoming the powers of evil (south-east corner); an eagle - the symbol of divine providence; a deer - the pursuit of piety. The four posts are all that remains of the stone bimah. The Germans either plundered or destroyed all other elements of the interior. Here you can see the exhibition "From the History of the Wlodawa Jews" which shows how the Jewish community organised itself, the activities of its members, well-known families, as well as political and sporting life. The museum also contains many objects donated by Jacob Friedmann from Sydney, who took part in the Sobibor uprising. Silver Chanukah lamps, spice boxes, and spoons were dug up during excavation carried out by the Wlodawa Electricity Board.



The exibition, photo

Be sure to visit the prayer room for women, which before the war housed the Beth Josef (House of Josef), a cheder which was attended by 160 pupils. It was modelled on the Novogrod Yeshivah set up by Josef Hurvitz. In the school, along with the study of the Torah, great emphasis was placed on ethics and morality. After the Bolsheviks assumed power, it was no longer possible for a school of this kind to continue functioning in Russia. Therefore, in 1922 it was moved to Poland. Today, along with temporary exhibitions it offers apermanent display which is at once extremely valuable and educational. It is entitled "In the Room of the Melamed, aTeacher of Religion". The faithfully re-created room is that of melamed Menachem, an employee of the Novogrod Yeshivah. Various everyday items have been gathered here, including akettle and an iron stove (almost all synagogues in Poland had heating problems).

The Little Synagogue
The building next door to the Great Synagogue is a good example of a small town synagogue. The vestibule and the prayer rooms for women are on the western side. It has existed in exactly the same form (22m in length, 14.8m in width and 5.8m in height) since 1786 and has never been remodelled. It had adual role: synagogue and place for study of the Torah and the Talmud. During the war it was turned into an army storehouse and from 1945 to 1983 it was used for the same purpose by a local co-operative. It was re-opened in 1999 after renovation work which lasted from 1983 to 1988. It is worth visiting not just for the exhibition "Wlodawa in Old Photographs" but also to see the numerous frescos and uncovered inscriptions. There is also a frieze depicting the signs of the zodiac, original wooden cupboard frames and the framework of the aron ha-kodesh inside which there is an unexhibited beam with the text: "In memory of the soul of Mrs Mendl Rachel from her husband Chaim Shloma, son of Iser ha-Levi". The inscriptions also contain lines from a biblical text (Isaiah 55:6-56:8); the prayers Modim dirabanam, Al ha-kol yitgadol, Al ha-rachamim and Binesoa ha-aron, as well as Psalms 24, 111, 112. The largest of the inscriptions on the wall to the right of the door reads: "In eternal memory of the toils of the late Mr Yehuda Leib, son of the late Mr Moshe Elijahim Gecel, to the blessed memory of Lichtenberg; his generosity in the rebuilding of the house of study in the year 5676 (1915), after it was destroyed during the World War, in the year 5675 (1914). He died on the 15th day of Shevat 5691 (1931) in Siedlce". The dates on this description are given in the abbreviated form. The Little Synagogue also houses ethnographic exhibitions.
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Adam Mickiewicz Institute, Mokotowska 25, 00-560 Warsaw tel. (48-22) 44 76 100,
fax. (48-22) 44 76 152;