Lone synagogue reopens outside Auschwitz

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OSWIECIM, Poland -- This small town, where the former Auschwitz concentration camp is located, reopened its only remaining synagogue.

The restored Chevra Lomdei Mishnayot, a modest, early 20th century synagogue, was used as a munitions dump by the Nazis -- 11 other synagogues in town were destroyed -- and later as a carpet showroom by Poland's Communist regime.

Prayer room of the Aushwitz Jewish Center and Chevra Lomdei Mishnayot Synagogue. The Auschwitz Jewish Center Foundation, based in New York, led the $1 million reconstruction of the synagogue and created a cultural center next door to it. Called the Auschwitz Jewish Center, it illustrates the life of the town's former Jewish community, which numbered 7,000 until the German invasion of Poland in 1939.

In addition to a permanent exhibition on pre-war Polish Jewish life, facilities of the cultural center include a 15-minute film, based on testimonies recorded by Steven Spielberg for his Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, and a family history room, with genealogy resources developed in partnership with the Web site JewishGen: The Home of Jewish Genealogy, which can be found at www.jewishgen.org.

Within the first six weeks of its official opening, more than 3,000 people visited the Auschwitz Jewish Center, which is less than two miles from the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum, according to Nadine Greenfield, director for Poland of the Auschwitz Jewish Center Foundation in New York.

Approximately 1,000 visitors per week are expected in spring and summer, she added.

Greenfield said the synagogue and cultural center have been visited by Jewish youth groups from America and is included on Jewish heritage itineraries from tour operators such as New York's Isram World of Travel.

Exhibits are in English, and the synagogue and cultural center take at least 45 minutes to an hour to visit, Greenfield said.

Admission is free.

For additional information, contact the Auschwitz Jewish Center Foundation at (212) 575-1050; by fax at (212) 575-1051, or by e-mail at [email protected].org. The Web site address is www.ajcf.org.

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