Life in Ruin Temples: Deserted Synagogues of Poland

Petar Cvijović

Deposited 2016

Abstract
This dissertation explores contemporary lives and dynamics of the abandoned synagogues in provincial Poland. In the foreground of this study are several prewar synagogue buildings that have not been restored and adapted by the country’s heritage and tourist industries, as my central argument revolves around the special affordances and qualities that these structures preserve and sustain in their abandoned forms and becomings. The deserted synagogue in Polish towns and villages exists as an extraordinary kind of ruin, being simultaneously connected to a pre-modern past, architecture, and tradition, and the modern history of dereliction and decay. As it finds itself in this peculiar in-between zone, the abandoned synagogue of Poland has a rare ability to invoke the perception and framing of both the pre- (classical) and postindustrial (modern) ruin. I underscore the material fluidity and aesthetic dimension of these structures, by zooming in on their posthuman life and vigorous unfolding of strange new spaces, things, meanings, and sensations. The aesthetics of the abandoned synagogues are dynamic and interactive, being inextricably attached to how we encounter and sense their reality and materiality. This thesis highlights the mercurial and affective aesthetic experience of Poland’s deserted synagogues that is being formed and transformed during these immediate encounters with material spaces and things. I suggest that a re-enchantment of the synagogue takes place in the ruin, wherein non-human actors and activities (e.g. plants, animals, the weather) continually generate the wonderment, strangeness, and sacrality of these places. Hence, the abandoned synagogue is here approached and perceived as a form that I call the ruin temple: a space whose deeply flowing past and dynamism of decay and life, create a present that allures and enchants, affording a solitary, mystical, and sensuous immersion in its profound sphere of awe and wonder.