Community's charity

Zbigniew Pakuła

In the first half of the nineteenth century, the Jewish community living in Poznań was extremely diverse economically. In addition to wealthy merchants, bankers, as well as owners of factories and craftsmen's workshops, the city was inhabited by many poor Jews who faced the problem of not being able to afford food, clothes and medicine . The destitute part of the Jewish community was supported by numerous charitable societies and foundations as well as care and medical facilities.

Charity, helping the poor, and alms were and are among the fundamental principles guiding the followers of Judaism. Abraham Heschel referred to caring for others as "ascending, growing." The outstanding thinker wrote: "Person achieves (...) the dimension of holiness when going beyond their own interests; when what is needed by others becomes important for them...". The rituals and institutions are not the objectives of a religious person, Heschel noted. The goal is "to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God"[1].Many directions on philanthropy and charity can be also found in the Talmud ("The precept of charity is greater than all other precepts").

There were a dozen or so associations and foundations in Poznań, all with a purpose of helping the poorest, including the elderly, orphans, single mothers, sick and infirm people. One of the wealthiest organizations was Abraham and Henrietta Rohr Foundation. Its main goal was to establish a Jewish hospital in Poznań. The Foundation was established on June 30, 1887, as a result of merging several endowments[2]. Moritz Rohr, a wealthy rentier, by contributing 600,000 Marks, established the foundation in memory of his deceased parents. In 1890, the community bought a parcel beyond the Royal Gate (outside the fortifications surrounding the city) intended for the hospital. The hospital was built between 1893 and 1895. Its designers and construction supervisors were Berlin architects Heinrich Schmieden and Albrecht Speer. The infirmary opened on June 18, 1895. Its full name was The Jewish Hospital and Asylum for the Infirm of the Abraham and Henrietta Rohr Foundation at 5 Przed Bramką Królewska Street. The opening ceremony began in the synagogue of the hospital and included rabbis Wolff Feilchenfeld and Philip Bloch. The new hospital complex was widely recognized at that time as the most modern in the Province of Poznań. Thanks to an agreement with the magistrate, the hospital also admitted patients of other religions.

In this article, however, another charity institution deserves further description, one which building survived the Second World War. The history of this institution is also longer. It goes back to 1831, when a wealthy merchant, Salomon Benjamin Latz, in his will (he died on January 17, 1829), bequeathed 6,000 thalers to create a shelter for the poor and sick Jews, complete with a house of prayer (and study). Soon, the founder's son Samuel Salomon Latz and son-in-law Izrael Marcus Wittkowski expanded the fund with donations. The following year, a plot of land was purchased along with a house at the corner of Stawna and Wroniecka Streets and a massive wall, a remnant of the medieval city walls.  The exact date when the hospital opened is unknown – it was probably 1837.

The hospital's first supervisor was J.M. Eiger, who chaired the board consisting of Salomon Levy, Moses Wolff, Benjamin Wittkowski, Joseph Handke and Naphtali Moses. Rabbi Simon Levy and the merchant Wolff Graetz oversaw the prayer house. The statute of the new hospital was approved in 1841. The hospital consisted of several buildings. The one from the front, multi-storey, had two entrances from Stawna Street and six rooms on each floor. The second building, multiple stories high as well, situated in the back but connected to the front building, had a high ceiling hall on the ground floor. The third building, located in the backyard, had three rooms and two sleeping porches. There was one more building in the backyard, consisting of only one apartment. In the yard, there was a coach house, a timber shed, three gazebos, water supply and a small garden.

 A hospital and a house of study (including prayer house) were located in the first front building. There was a separate entrance to the hospital. On the ground floor, there were offices and one room for patients. Five rooms for patients, a kitchen and a caregiver's apartment were on the first floor. Two doctors were working in the hospital, caring for up to 18 patients. Forty-five student desks stood in the house of study where Aron Kodesh also resided – the room was used for religious services.

The technical condition of the hospital after 50 years of use has deteriorated significantly despite numerous renovations of the building. Its management was also forced to transfer part of the land to the municipality which wanted to widen Wroniecka Street in anticipation of the planned tram line going through it. Ultimately, in 1900, the management of the hospital decided to dismantle the old hospital and settle an agreement with the Jewish community which wanted to build a new synagogue in its place. The settlement was reached in June 1904. In return for the plot of land, the Jewish community handed over the land occupied by the old synagogues at 15-18 Żydowska Street, and 60,000 Marks for the construction of a new hospital.

The Foundation's Management Board made one more important decision. Since there was already a modern Jewish hospital in Poznań, they decided to limit its activities only to care for the elderly and the infirm. One of the arguments behind the decision was the Foundation’s lack of resources  for a well-equipped hospital. Given that, on May 27, 1907, the statute of the S. B. Latz Hospital was changed, and it became the S. B. Latz Shelter (Asylum) for the elderly and infirm. According to the statute, the new facility was to provide assistance (housing and care) to infirm Jewish people and to secure part of the building for the Torah study (beth midrash).

After the demolition of the complex of three old synagogues (the work began on April 27, 1908), a new, impressive building was erected which survived World War II and can still be admired by passersby at Żydowska Street. The author of the design was an outstanding architect Alfred Grotte, professor at the Royal School of Architectural Crafts in Poznań[3]. The opening ceremony took place on December 15, 1909, at noon (the beth midrash was inaugurated the day before).

Alfred Grotte described the construction costs in the "Ostdeutsche Bau-Zeitung" magazine (Breslau, 15/07/1914): "The construction costs, including equipment and donations, amount to 212,000 marks, of which 7,580 marks were used to secure neighbouring houses [during construction], burdensome and often dangerous [task]. This important work, as well as the entire bricklaying and finishing work, was carried out by the architect Martin Sonnabend from Poznań. The cost was respectively 65,100 and 21,000 marks. Cladding with brick veneers etc. cost 23,900 marks. The cost of building a square meter of space was 389.50 marks, while a cubic meter cost 19.35 marks. Construction cost amounts to 3,518 marks per inhabitant of the house." (...)


[1]                     Abraham J. Heschel, Człowiek nie jest sam. Filozofia religii, Kraków 2001, pg. 200.

[2]                     Its full name was Combined endowments (trust funds) of Abraham and Henrietta Rohr, Izaak and Filip Todman, Izaak and Maria Wolff, Meier and Henrietta Hamburger, Heinrich and Ida Fraenkl.

[3]                     Born January 12, 1872 in Prague, died June 17, 1943 in Theresienstandt (Terezin). Grotte was a co-founder of the Jewish Museum in Wrocław, and an authority in the field of research on monuments of Jewish culture, thanks to, among others, the reconstruction of the Maisels synagogue in Prague (the project of the reconstruction of the Prague synagogue, which was transformed into a neo-gothic, three-nave temple in 1905), and numerous academic works on Jewish sacred and tomb architecture. He maintained contacts with the Jewish community in Wrocław, where he finally settled in 1919 as a lecturer at the State Construction School.

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