Wroclaw, (formerly Breslau, Germany) sits at the crossroads of Europe in western Poland. Its diverse religions, cultural and architectural makeup over the centuries has been formed by Germans, Poles, Bohemians, Austrians, and Jews.
While in Wroclaw when not staying at the home of a *Servas Host, I stayed in a guesthouse in a historic building in the area called the “District of Mutual Respect.” This area was so named because of the fact that churches of three denominations, Lutheran, Orthodox and Roman Catholic, and a Jewish synagogue, are all in close proximity to each other in this neighborhood. It is also known as the Old Jewish Quarter. It is along former defensive fortifications of the city which were demolished by Napoleon.
The beautifully-restored White Stork Synagogue lined one side of the courtyard of the building where I was staying. It was the second largest in Germany before WWII. What stopped the German Nazis from torching the White Stork Synagogue on Krystallnacht in 1938, as they did the New Synagogue, the largest in Breslau (built 1865-1872), was because of its close proximity to other buildings and the fire hazard that might create.
A brief synopsis of Wroclaw’s German past, which spanned centuries:
Breslau (now Wroclaw) was part of the Kingdom of Prussia (German) starting in 1742. It became part of the German Empire in 1871, then the Weimar Republic (German inter-war period), and then Nazi Germany in 1933. When Breslau, Germany, became part of Poland in 1945 as a result of border changes following World War II, the name of the city was changed to Wroclaw, Poland.
Often I looked out my window late at night at the floodlit courtyard and pondered the types of activity that must have taken place there over the centuries starting with the construction of the huge synagogue in 1829. I visualized the crowds of Jews gathered before and after a service up until it’s destruction during Krystallnacht. Soon thereafter Jews who had been rounded up in the neighborhood were brought here before being taken to a concentration camp. Then some years after the war, renovation of the courtyard took place by a sheik who purchased some of the buildings in it.And now, even during cold winter evenings, life hums under my window with a few customers in the outdoor cafes.
Somehow I always felt secure knowing I was staying in such close proximity to this synagogue, which I noticed had good security. I realized at the time that this may have been a false notion, given the history of the Jews in Poland and Europe, in general.
Architectural diversity, centuries apart, exists side-by-side in Old Town
*Servas is an International non-profit peace organization of hosts and travelers www.USServas.org
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