The design of the building was commissioned by the Olsztyn Jewish community, and it was the first realization of a project by the architect Erich Mendelsohn and a harbinger of his great talent and future fame. The funeral home was opened in August 1913 and this event was one of the most important not only for the local Jewish community, but also for all the inhabitants of the city, as evidenced by the preserved documents of the time. An integral part of Mendelsohn’s project in Olsztyn is a smaller building located next to the funeral home – the gardener’s house. Both buildings, together with the surrounding cemetery, are a unique historical, artistic and symbolic complex of Jewish cultural monuments in Olsztyn.
(Erich Mendelssohn 1887– 1953) designed the Bet Tahara (Hebrew: house of purification) and the gardener’s house, as commissioned by the local Jewish community.
The funeral home is situated in a typical place: on the edge of a now barely preserved Jewish cemetery and it is not difficult to guess its original function, even though its external form differs slightly from that of the other buildings of the type. Currently, it houses the „Borussia” Foundation, thanks to which it has undergone a major renovation and regained its former glory. The MENDELSOHN HOUSE Intercultural Dialogue Center operating in it has been conducting a lively cultural and educational activity for many years and is one of the most important and most dynamically operating organizations on the map of Warmia and Mazury, and thanks to numerous publications, especially those published in the years 1991–2017 in the periodical "Borussia" „, the activity of the local The Foundation has gone far beyond the borders of Olsztyn and the region.
In the 1920s, Mendelsohn’s avant-garde designs were quite successful in Germany, and his architectural firm with several dozen collaborators was one of the largest in Europe. However, of all Mendelsohn’s works, the funeral home in Olsztyn remains relatively unknown. It happened so, among others, because Mendelsohn, desiring to be perceived as a revolutionist in the field of architecture, omitted the Olsztyn project while presenting his achievements, and only mentioned the first spectacular astronomical observatory in Potsdam called the Einsteinturm (construction was completed in 1922).
Bet Tahara was built at the end of 1912, and in the spring of 1913 the finishing works began – when Mendelssohn came to his hometown of Olsztyn to supervise them, his principals, members of the Jewish community, welcomed the young artist with reserve, because the local rather conservative society considered the building to be excessively modern in shape and, in addition, too costly, even though the community was a reformed one. In one of his letters to his beloved one, he confided with bitterness: „(...) due to the backwardness of these provincial souls and to the stinginess of the town’s authorities- [the funeral home] already has many enemies. Yet, above all, my steadfast will and confidence make me calm and allow me to resist everyone „(fragment of Erich Mendelsohn’s letter to Luise Maas of April 12th, 1913, from the SMB-EMA collection).
Nevertheless, the Olsztyn Bet Tahara became one of the main buildings of the Jewish community, and after many years of oblivion into which it had fell for many reasons, it also became an important, long-missing link in the rich oeuvre of Erich Mendelsohn. We cordially invite you to see it on site, and for those who do not have such an opportunity, we offer a virtual tour.
Blog about Jewish heritage in Poland. Interesting articles, fascinating photo reports presenting the beauty and symbolism of Jewish monuments.
A series of three webinars, organized in late autumn 2021, inaugurating a discussion on the historical and cultural value of tangible Jewish heritage in Poland, as well as the challenges facing Polish and Jewish partners involved in its protection.
The opportunity to get acquainted with selected monuments of Jewish heritage in Poland (synagogues, cemeteries and a funeral home) and visit them without leaving home.
Public task financed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland within the grant competition “Public Diplomacy 2021”