WOODEN MIKVAH DISCOVERED NEXT TO AUSCHWITZ JEWISH CENTER FOUNDATION (AJCF) IN OŚWIĘCIM, POLAND.
During the construction of a parking lot, workers discovered what archaeologists now confirm is another finding related to the town’s Jewish past. This time, in the vicinity of the Great Synagogue Memorial Park in Oświęcim, next to the AJCF campus, remnants of the first wooden Mikvah were found and likely date 400 years back or more.
“Our conservative estimate is that these unique Mikvah remnants date back to the 17th century, but they are likely older. Their uniqueness derives from the period of origin, their remarkable state of preservation, and the fact that virtually no traces of wooden Jewish buildings associated with this religious ritual have survived in this part of Europe,” says Tomasz Kuncewicz, director of AJCF’s Jewish Museum in Oświęcim.
Kuncewicz notes that the wooden mikvah was found slightly below the brick one, which remnants were discovered at the same location in Oświęcim just a few weeks ago. According to historians, the surviving wooden buildings could date back to the beginnings of Jewish history in Oświęcim–the second half of the 16th century when the first synagogue and cemetery were established in the area. In Poland, Mikvahs were traditionally separate from other religious buildings, but they formed a complex together with other religious institutions of Judaism. Therefore, the preserved remnants could be assumed to relate to the earliest period of Jewish presence in Oświęcim.
One Hasidic legend, quoted by Yehuda Kinderman in “Sefer Oshpitzin,” a book of remembrance of Oświęcim’s Jews published in 1977, is also associated with this very wooden Oświęcim Mikvah. It is the story of three great tzaddiks, namely Elimelech of Leżajsk (1717-1787), his brother Zusja of Annopol and Shlomo Bochner of Chrzanów. During their journey, they met in Oświęcim. – They spent the whole day there, but following a rule they adopted on their journey, they did not stay at night in the same place. This time, however, at Elimelech’s request, they stayed in Oświęcim, and the tzaddik stayed overnight in a small Mikvah, which has since been called “Reb Elimelech’s” Mikvah.
Jewish residents of Oświęcim called their town Oshpitzin (Yiddish for guests) and before the outbreak of World War II, they made up more than half of the population, though only a few survived the Holocaust. The last Jewish resident of Oświęcim, Szymon Kluger, died in 2000.
Their stories are presented by the AJCF’s Jewish Museum in Oświęcim, located in the center of the Old Town and form the campus together with the historic Chevra Lomdei Mishnayot Synagogue and Cafe Bergson. More information about AJCF can be found at ajcfus.org, www.oshpitzin.pl and on Facebook and Instagram.