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Cuckoo saved. And who will save the urban identity?

17 of March '21

A Plock sukkah will already be on display at the Ethnographic Museum in Warsaw this year. "Shacks" in the former heart of the city's Jewish quarter are an architectural testimony to history, but their place in Plock is being displaced by modern developments by developers.

Where did the sukkahs in Plock come from?

The city's archives preserve a design for an outbuilding, made by Zdzislaw Zawodzinski in 1871, for a grain merchant and owner of a property located at what is now 5 Józefa Kwiatka Street. The design called for the erection of a two-story building, covered with a mono-pitched roof: on the first floor level (with brick walls) the building was to house a lumberyard and a carriage house, and on the second floor level (with walls covered with boards covered with oil paint) - a sukkah. The document shows that the sukkah was a room on a rectangular plan, with a floor area of 3.35m x 4.75m, 2.74m high (height with roof - 4.57m). A vestibule led to the interior of the sukkah. There was also a small room on the first floor, adjacent to the sukkah room on the other side. ("Our Roots" No. 8 of 2015)

drawing from the Plock archives | photo

Most of these potentially temporary "shacks" were erected in the heart of Plock's Jewish quarter, but they can also be found in other parts of cities. Orthodox Jews lived in them during the Sukkot holiday, while others used them during prayers. At one time more than a third of the community of Plock were Jews, today Plock's sukkahs are just a reminder, or rather remnants of them.... Most of the sukkahs the city has already lost.

Szydlowiec sukkah

An example of the solution how to save architecture is the story of the Szydlowiec sukkah. With the joint efforts of residents and institutions, a unique trace of the material and spiritual culture of Polish Jews was saved. The salvagedparts found their way to the restoration workshop, where thorough work was carried out for three months. The precise mechanism for opening the roof was restored, creating a unique opportunity for educational activities related to this important holiday in the Jewish religious year. The sukkah can now be viewed at the State Ethnographic Museum.

kuczka z Szydłowiec |

as if there was no history

Local journalists for Gazeta Wyborcza have been writing about the ignorance of the authorities, the monuments' restorers, but above all the town's residents themselves for the past several years. They were the ones who fought against the mass liquidation of the historic squatters. This is also how one of the most beautiful contraptions, at 8 Grodzka Street, was irretrievably demolished. And despite the fact that, thanks to journalists' appeals, it was finally entered in the register of monuments, to this day it has not returned to its original place.

The sukkah is placed on a former balcony slab, on a Klein ceiling, composed of metal rails and bricks. I think the whole thing dates from the interwar period, as indicated by the rounded corner, referring to the style of modernism. On the balcony slab are the walls, brick, about a meter high. Then go the windows, and above them is a decorative, wooden, profiled cornice. The sukkah is entered from the hallway of one of the apartments, its interior is also visible from the living room window. This solution is also an unusual souvenir. The point is that the Festival of the sukkah was celebrated only by men. They were the only ones to enter the "hut". Women stayed at home, especially little girls were sorry that their brothers or cousins were having an interesting adventure from which they were excluded. There are even surviving accounts of the mischief the girls played in such situations, and the various objects they threw into the sukkahs through the tilted roofs. The view from the living room to the inside of the cuckoo - the fact that they knew what was going on there - was probably a certain comfort to them," architectural historian Malgorzata Michalska-Nakonieczna explained to Gazeta Wyborcza.

A sukkah in Plock | photo:

the only saved one

The second sukkah in the Polish collection, after the one in Szydłowiec, will be the one from Płock. Like the others, it was supposed to be destroyed, but...

In 2016, the then director of the Ethnographic Museum in Warsaw, Adam Czyzewski, accidentally noticed the sukkah. Recognizing its value, he decided to dismantle it at the expense of his museum, transport it to Warsaw and put it on display there, in a special space that would allow the sukkah to be shown in a manner analogous to its original location "between heaven and earth."

The completion of the reconstruction of the exhibition gallery and the adaptation of the mezzanine to display the monument coincided with the preparation of a public contract for the restoration, renovation and recomposition of the Płock sukkah. The tender selected a restoration company, with which on September 22, 2020. PME signed a relevant agreement, while the components of the sukkah were transported to the contractor's conservation workshop. The scope of the work to be carried out includes, among other things, securing the wooden substance, restoring elements that have been damaged, and - most interestingly and in accordance with the art - carrying out detailed research , especially on the issue of pigmentation, the origin and staining of glass, comparative work, etc. The contractually stipulated end of the research work is April 19 this year. In parallel, conservation and restoration work is being carried out. At the same time, we would like to inform you that PME's long-standing effort to save the Płock sukkah from degradation is heading towards its finale. The project would not have had a chance to succeed if it were not for a grant from the Mazovian Regional Assembly, which allocated nearly 300 thousand zlotys (...) to carry out the restoration work." - reads a statement from the Ethnographic Museum in Warsaw.

kuczka in Plock | photo:

protection of monuments

Would the conservation care that the sukkahs could receive solve the problem of the city's fading identity? Unfortunately, this treatment, while halting their complete demolition, unfortunately multiplies the cost of renovating the building. Therefore, even if some unique Jewish sukkahs are officially monuments, although protected, they are quietly deteriorating, completely forgotten. Is it possible to save the city's identity when even the city itself displaces it?

Marta Kowalska

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