The Maharshal Synagogue was considered the most magnificent of all of the Jewish houses of worship in Lublin. It was the most beautiful, as well as being the largest and was able to seat more than 3,000 people who gathered there during Jewish holidays and festivals. Many famous cantors were drawn to this Synagogue and served there. There was even a children’s choir which accompanied the Cantors. It was the pride of the community for several hundred years. Tragically, today only photographs remain.
The history of the Maharshal Synagogue is entwined with the history of Lublin’s Jewish community.
Yitzhak Maj, a physician, was one of the first Jewish inhabitants of Lublin. He was able to buy a large plot of land on Jateczna Street which he donated for the building of the synagogue in 1567. The name, Maharshal, represents the Hebrew acronym of the preeminent rabbi, “Morenu [our Teacher] HaRav Shelomo Luria”. It was during this time period that Lublin was a major spiritual center for Jews, a golden era, and as a consequence also the location where the Council of Four Lands (i.e. Va’ad Arba’ Aratzot) held their great annual sessions.
In 1656 the Synagogue was destroyed by the Cossacks who were rampaging across Russia and Poland. The Cossacks set fire to the Jewish Quarter and slaughtered the inhabitants. The Synagogue was rebuilt as part of the renewal of the Jewish Community.
In 1856 the ceiling of the synagogue collapsed. The Jewish community was again mobilized to rebuild it. The reconstruction took many years and was only completed in 1864.
Exterior – The Synagogue was a square building with two roofs. Its corners were rounded and its windows were arched giving both a strong and graceful appearance. The walls were built very thick as fortification to protect the Jews in times of trouble.
Attached to the Maharshal and sharing the same roof was another synagogue, the Maharam. It was named after Rabbi Meir ben Gedalia of Lublin (1558-1616) and was an acronym of his title, “Morenu Harav Rabbi Meir”.
Interior – The prayer hall was spacious and square. The Bima [raised pulpit] was large and located in the center. At the time, the importance of the Bima in the religious rituals was significant and this new central location reflected this. This architectural design subsequently influenced the structures of other synagogues in Poland and Germany.
In September 1939 Lublin was conquered by the Nazis. All religious activity in the Marharshal Synagogue was prohibited, prayers were silenced. The Synagogue was converted for use as the People’s Kitchen for Poor Jews. Later it also became a shelter for the many refugees and deportees who had been sent to the Lublin ghetto from other places.
On March 17, 1942, the Nazis designated the Maharshal Synagogue as an assembly point for the Jews who were being deported to the Belzec death camp. These deportations ended on April 14,1942 with the destruction of the Jewish community of Lublin and their deaths in Belzec. With the perishing of the community, the sounds of praying and crying ceased and the synagogue was desolated.
After the demise of the community, the Nazis blew up the empty houses in the Jewish Quarter and demolished the Synagogue.
After the war, a broad grassy park was planted over the ruins of the Jewish Quarter which had encircled the Lublin castle (the Zamek). A major roadway, the Aleja Tysiaclecia, was constructed directly over the ruins.
Two modest memorial plaques mark the place on Jateczna Street where the Maharshal Synagogue stood. The plaques were funded by the Lublin City Hall and by the organization of former Lublin residents who now live in Israel.
A Recent Discovery
Until recently, it was thought that nothing remained from the Synagogue. Suddenly, there was a discovery!
In January 2008, the Parochet [curtain which had covered the Torah Ark] at the Maharshal Synagogue in Lublin was found in a synagogue in the town of Bielsko-Biala.
The Parochet was found accidentally by the Polish historian, Jacek Proszyk. He found it while inventorying the property of the local synagogue. It was determined that the curtain was brought to Bielsko-Biala in 1945. However, as of now, there is no information about how, why and by whom, the curtain was brought there.
In 2007 a virtual model in 3-demensions of the Maharshal Synagogue was created by
Christopher Mucha of the Servodata Elektronik company with the assistance of representatives from TeatrNN – Brama Grodzka Gate. The model enables us to take an interactive tour of the synagogue and its surrounding area. (It is anticipated that ultimately TeatrNN, together with a member of our Lubliner organization, will be able to create a virtual reality of the entire pre-WWII Jewish Quarter.)
Encyclopedia of the Jewish Diaspora (Lublin – pages 127-134) (Maharshal Synagogue by D. Davidovich, english), edited by Nachman Blumenthal and Meir Korzen and published Jerusalem and Tel Aviv 1957
Synagoga Maharszala w Lublinie (nieistniejaca)) http://tnn.pl/pm,350.html
Translation of Polish sources: Sara Barnea
Summary and translation to English: Shmulik Avidar
Edited (English): Esther Mandelay