The Great Synagogue in Ashmiany Belarus

Introduction

Following the destruction of the Jewish population in Ashmiany, the Great Synagogue was turned into a storage facility after World War 2.  In 2007, the heritage value of the building was formally recognised by the State and it was inscribed into the National List of Historical Sites.  

Today the building belongs to the Ashmiany Museum of Local History and is occasionally shown to visitors.

The Challenge

The building is in very poor condition and, while there is interest in preserving the site and making it more of a feature of the local Museum, as a state-protected monument any conservation projects must be approved by national authorities and reflect the highest professional standards, which is hard to achieve in a small town with limited funds for cultural institutions.  Furthermore, the Municipality appears to lack the motivation to allocate significant resources for a building that is part of a ‘minority’ history of a community that is no longer present in the town.

The Plan

The proposal is initially to make more use of the building in order to develop interest and involvement within the local community. 

The Museum staff, together with experts from Belarusian ICOMOS (International Council of Monuments and Sites) plan to run a series of educational programmes within the building for both children and adults in the spring-summer seasons (other seasons cannot be used because the building has no heating).  However, to undertake this, the building needs some limited immediate improvements to enable it to be suitable for such use.

The strategy is that, by developing greater awareness of the building and the story of the Ashmiany Jewish community, this will lead to greater engagement locally paving the way for a more significant restoration effort and a proper exhibition in the building presenting the Jewish experience in the region.

Here is a short film on the Ashmiany project -