Britain's Prince Charles (L) talks with a boy during an opening of a new Jewish community centerin the heart of Poland's historic southern city of Krakow on April 29, 2008, focused on reviving Jewish life and culture all but obliterated by the Holocaust.
Photo: AFP Copyright 2008
KRAKOW (EJP)---The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall opened Tuesday a new Jewish community centre in the heart of Poland's historic southern city of Krakow.
The 59-year-old heir to the British throne participated in the traditional Jewish custom of fixing a Mezuzah -- a scroll of parchment inscribed with special Hebrew prayer -- to the entrance of the new center in the historic Kazimierz Jewish quarter.
The centre was built by the World Jewish Relief (WJR), a London-based charity organization which helps Jewish communities around the world.
Founded in 1933, the WJR helped 10,000 Jewish children escape from the Nazis.
Prince Charles is patron of the new community centre and helped to collect money - partly out of his own pocket - for the construction after a previous visit to Krakow in 2002.
During this trip, Charles met elderly Holocaust survivors and was deeply moved by their plight. In a meeting with the local Jewish community, he asked what their important needs were.
When they said they need a new modern facility where all Jews in Krakow can gather, organize community life, integrate and celebrate the holidays, the Prince said he would help and discussed the idea with the World Jewish Relief, based in Camden in North London, which he is affiliated with.
On his initiative, the charity group began working towards building the centre.
WJR chairman Nigel Layton said: "We are honoured and delighted that the royal couple joined us for this momentous occasion and we are grateful to them for their wonderful support of WJR throughout this project."
"Never did we imagine that we would have a center, a home for the whole community of Krakow," said Holocaust survivor and Krakow resident Ryszard Orowski, attending the Tuesday grand opening.
"I stand here today remembering the family and loved ones whom many of us lost so tragically in the Holocaust but now I can look to the future with true hope that our wonderful community can again come alive," said Orowski, who lost his entire family in the Nazi genocide.
The new centre is the second such centre completed by the charity. In 2004, under its "Our Town" banner, WJR opened a community centre in Zaporozhe in Ukraine.
Elderly and students
The Krakow centre will provide a facility for social, educational and religious programmes. It will serve around 1,000 people including the elderly and Jewish students studying at Krakow University.
It will include day care for the elderly, state-of-the-art computer facilities including an internet café and function rooms.
Prince Charles made a "substantial contribution" to financing the centre worth 1.5 million pounds (1.9 million euros, 2.96 million dollars) according to its director, Jonathan Ornstein.
The five-story centre was built in the grounds of the Tempel synagogue in Krakow’s old Jewish quarter.
Even though there are only 300 registered members of the Jewish community in Krakow, the place is the spiritual home of the country's Jewish revival and attracts millions of tourists every year.
The Krakow Jews are active in religious and secular organizations.
The community is growing slowly, but still some three quarters of all members are elderly people.
A revival of Jewish life in Poland has been taking place for a number of years. Jewish communities have become more organized and in main Polish cities full-term rabbis have begun their work.
Before the Holocaust, 3,5 million Jews lived in the country, the largest Jewish population in Europe.
Today around 10,000 Jews live in Poland.
During his one-day stay in Krakow, Prince Charles is to visit the main monuments of the city, including St. Mary's Basilica, the Royal Castle and the Cathedral on the Wawel hill, as well as the synagogues of the historical Jewish district.