In a gesture laden with symbolism, the sole remaining synagogue in the Polish city of Gdansk was restored in its entirety to the local Jewish community on Monday, on the eve of ceremonies marking 70 years since the start of World War II.
"This is a special day," community president Mychal Samet told The Jerusalem Post. "We are pleased that the synagogue has been returned."
While ownership of the building was officially transferred to the Jewish community in 2001, a Polish music school situated at the site had continued to use most of the structure, which left just a small wing available for Jewish prayer services and other communal activities.
But the music academy relocated at the start of this week, in advance of the new school year, paving the way for the Jewish community to reclaim the remainder of the building, which includes the hall where the original main sanctuary once stood.
Built in 1927 in the Wrzeszcz district of Gdansk, just 3 km. from the city center, the shul became known as the New Synagogue.
It was partially destroyed by the Germans in 1938, and after the war Poland's Communist authorities used it as a warehouse to store furniture.
Approximately 100 people are currently registered as official members of Gdansk's Jewish community, Samet said, though many more are believed to live in the area, either unaware of their heritage or afraid to reveal it.
He noted that weekly Sabbath services are held in a small beit midrash, or study hall, in the building, which also houses the community's offices and dining room.
The outside of the synagogue building is in an obvious state of disrepair, and much of the inside was remodeled while under Communist control.
As a result, Samet said, a great deal of funds will be needed to renovate the structure, which he hopes will serve both as a center of Jewish life and as a place where local non-Jews can learn more about Poland's rich Jewish heritage.
"Gdansk is a special place, and it is home to one of the only synagogues still standing in this part of Poland," he said. "It is our responsibility - we must preserve it."