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 ‘Time capsule’ mikveh found in abandoned Polish strip club

TJI Pick
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‘Time capsule’ mikveh found in abandoned Polish strip club

Published: 22 August 2023

Last updated: 5 March 2024

The new owner is looking for investors to help him preserve the town’s Jewish history.

The Sphinx nightclub in the town of Chmielnik, in southern Poland, closed about 15 years ago. You can still see the bar in the abandoned building, with a Heineken sign on the wall, under a notice prohibiting the serving of alcohol to anyone under 18. The pole on which strippers once danced is also intact. The peeling walls, decorated with illustrations of ancient Egypt, together with the leaky ceiling and the patches of mould are the only signs of how long it’s been since anyone spent a night out in this place.

Marian Zwolski, a businessman and amateur historian who grew up in Chmielnik, bought the building a few years ago. When he opened the door to the basement, which is located underneath the dance floor, he was stunned by what he saw. He discovered that he was now the owner of a rare and spectacular Jewish heritage site.

The Jewish Independent

Visitors to the former nightclub are greeted by an unusual site: a large mikveh, or ritual purification bath, full of water. Its blue-and-white floor tiles have held up well. In one corner, there are stars of David on the walls. An adjacent room holds a smaller mikveh that was used by women.

“It’s astonishing. You enter the basement, and you’re in another world. It’s like a time capsule,” says Meir Bulka, an Israeli activist who works to preserve Poland’s Jewish heritage, during a tour of the building.

Chmielnik, like many towns in Poland, was predominantly Jewish until World War II. Its 17th century synagogue houses a museum of Jewish life in the town, with items such as a poster in Yiddish that reads, “Severe warning: Jews who shaved their beards may not pray near the bimah.”

New owner of abandoned Polish strip club finds ‘time capsule’: mikveh in basement (Haaretz)  

Top photo: The mikveh in the basement of an abandoned strip club in Chmielnik, southern Poland (Ofer Aderet)

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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