Tiny reminders of the vibrant culture of Eastern European Jews
The late Moshe Verbin was born in 1920 in Sokolka, a town in northeastern Poland. He immigrated to Israel at the end of 1935, believing that his family would join him a few years later. They did not, however, and were discovered by the Nazis in January 1943. Verbin’s family was deported to Auschwitz, where they were murdered upon arrival.
Two decades after the end of the war, Verbin picked up a book containing illustrations and rare photographs of Eastern European synagogues that were burned down during World War II. It triggered positive childhood memories of religious life in Poland and inspired him to breathe new life into the structures. For the next 20 years, he set about creating wooden synagogues in 1/100 scale, based primarily on the illustrations in the book.
Wood was a common building material for Jews in small Eastern European towns in the 17th and 18th centuries, as it was abundant, high-quality, and cheap. For his models, Verbin used a combination of wood scraps and straw, the latter material being similarly abundant and cheap in his environment (around his house). Verbin’s work has been showcased in galleries and museums around the world, and is now on permanent display at ORT College in Jerusalem. Here are some examples:
Gombin is a small town west of Warsaw that Jews had already settled in by the latter half of the 16th century. The synagogue was built in 1710 with Baroque-style towers and domes that resembled some of the churches built around the same time. Between the world wars, Polish authorities deemed the synagogue a historical monument and a testament to the cultural contribution of Jews in Poland. The Germans destroyed the synagogue on September 21, 1939.
Grodno is a city in Belarus that became a famous center of learning for Jews in the 17th century. The wooden synagogue was built in 1750 and can be seen in the photograph below.
The wooden synagogue in Khodorov, Ukraine, was well known for its interior decorations, its colorful paintings, and its intricately-carved doors. Inscriptions of biblical verses, prayers and proverbs adorned its walls.
The synagogue in Jurborg, Lithuania was built in 1790 and renovated in 1870. Its attic served as a hospice for the poor.
Narowla is a small town in southern Belarus on the banks of the Pripyat River. The synagogue was constructed in the mid-1700s and burned by the Germans during WWII.
Janow Sokolski, Poland
The synagogue in Janow Sokolski, Poland was built in the second half of the 18th century. The town’s census in 1775 counted 214 Christian residents and 221 Jews.
Jews settled in the small down of Zabludow, Poland at the end of the 16th century. The synagogue, built from oak wood, was constructed around 1635 and enlarged in 1765. It was considered one of the most beautiful synagogues in Poland until its demise in WWII.
Warka is a town south of Warsaw whose synagogue was built around 1811. The prayer hall was covered with paintings depicting animals, symbols, landscapes, and prayer verses. German soldiers burned it to the ground in September 1939.
For more photos of his work and histories of the synagogues, visit this site.