The Bialystok Great Synagogue was built on Suraska Street between 1908 and 1913. It was designed by the distinglished architect Szlojme Jakow Rabinowicz, father of the famous religious painter Ben Cijon Rabinowicz, who was simply known as Benn. You can see that the Synagogue was topped by a large dome with a spire of about ten meters. The synagogue also had two smaller symmetrical decorative domes atop its side halls. Under the main dome-which was supported by steel and concrete pillars that at the lower level were incorporated in the Bimah's construction-the indoor lighting system included eight small windows (lukarnas). The syngogue's 20th-century construction was especially impressive in the way it incorporated three domes into the regular structure of the cuboid. The synagogue employed a mixture of architectural styles-primarily neo-Gothic and Byzantine. Characteristic of many synagogues built at the beginning of the 20th century, the sturcture's dome exhibited a Byzantine-Muslim influence in an atempt to reduce the neo-Gothic appearance that had become so closely identified with Christianity.
At the synagogue-which was only open on Saturdays and holidays-women prayed together with men, though in separate halls that surrounded the main prayer hall on three sides (the fourth, or eastern side ws occupied by the Ark). Such 20th -century novelties as choir and organ were introducded, and during the period between World War I and World War II, national holidays were celebrated with services attended by such city authorities as the mayor and the governor of the region. The last official rabbi of Bialystok, Dr. Gedali Rozenman, at the end of the prayer and Jewish hymn "Hatikve" would intone the Polish national anthem "Jeszcze Polska nie zginela".
The Great Synagoge's size and prestige attracted cantors from all over Poland, as well as from neighboring countries. In 1934 for the Pesach (Passover) holiday, as many as 14 cantors offered their services to the governing board of the Synagogue.
The Bialystok Great Synagoge was burned on June 27, 1941 by members of German Police Battalion 309 under the command of Major Weis. The Germans had collected at least 700 male Jews in the synagogue. Gasoline was poured at the entryways. A grenade was tossed into the building, igniting a fire that also spread to nearby homes in which Jews were hiding, and they also were burned alive. The next day 30 wagon loads of corpses were taken to a mass grave. As many as 2,000-2,200 Jews had been murdered.
According to testimony in the Bialystoker Memorial Book in many instances people slashed their friend's and neighbor's wrists in order to shorten their ordeal. One young man, not yet overcome by smoke, climbed up to a window inside the sanctuary, where he knocked out several panes and cursed the Nazis looking on. He was shot and fell from the window and survived. The Polish synagogue watchman, risking his life, was able to sneak in to open a side door, enabling several Jews to escape including the wounded young man.
Bialystok Great Synagogue Postcard. From Tomasz Wisniewski Collection.
Put mouse over photo to enlarge this German ariel photo of June 27th, 1941 "aktion" against Bialystok Jews. On lower right the Great Synagogue can be seen starting to burn. Upper left hand is Plonaska Synagogue and surroundings burning.
Remains of the Bialystok Great Synagogue
Dr. Kracowski, Note Jakobson(accountant), Kaplan(manufacturer-merchant on Kupiecka Street); Master chess player Aron Zabludovski; Poliak (pharmacist); the comic Alter Sztajnberg; Izchok Brener; Radzinower (restaurateur of the "Aquarium"); the cork manufacturer Jamnik; restaurateurs Michel Grodzenski, his son and son-in-law; the merchant Byspucki; Fuksman (son of the former furniture manufacturer); the football player Izchok Lach; Awram Spektor and his two sons; and Dowid Wisocki *
Current Memorial, June 2001 Click here to learn more about the Bialystok Jewish Community * Information for this webpage from, Jewish Bialystok and surroundings in Eastern Poland, By Tomasz Wisniewski, 1998 Ordinary men. Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland, Christopher R. Browing, 1998 Bialystoker Memorial Book, New York, 1982
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