My latest column -- another take on Bielsko Biala

The Jewish architect Karol Korn, who designed some of the most important buildings in Bielsko-Biala.

In my latest column on, I visit Bielsko-Biala, Poland and describe the Jewish sites there -- focusing, among other things, on the buildings designed by the architect Karol Korn.

Much of the town is still somewhat rundown, with sooty grime obscuring the facades of elegant buildings. But restoration work has begun on some of the architectural gems that in the latter part of the 19th century won the town the nickname "little Vienna."

A Jewish architect, Karl (or Karol) Korn, in fact, was instrumental in shaping the urban landscape we see today -- so much so that a street in town was even named in his honor.

Korn, who lived from 1852-1906, designed many of the sumptuous mansions and apartment buildings that still line the city's main boulevard, ul. 3 Maja, and near by streets. Some of them show art nouveau, or secessionist, features. His used Italian and neo-renaissance touched for his own mansion, built on ul. 3 Maja in 1883 -- it incorporates a sculptural representation of Korn's emblem above the entrance: an arrangement of the measuring tools and other instruments used by architects and builders.

Korn also designed other important buildings, such as the elegant President Hotel and the central Post Office, that are landmarks on the avenues that spread out from Bielsko's medieval core of 14th century castle and arcaded market square.

His most elaborate building, however, no longer exists. This was the opulent, Moorish-style synagogue that dominated ul. 3 Maja until the Nazis destroyed it in 1939.

It was an imposing structure with two big towers, lotus domes, decorated cupolas, arched windows and a red and orange striped fa├žade -- old postcards, on sale at the local tourist office, demonstrate that it was one of the city's most prominent attractions.
Today, a contemporary art gallery stands on the spot -- ironically this is where the performance art festival I was attending took place. It is marked by a small memorial plaque on an outer wall.

Next door, a puppet theatre stands on the site of the one-time Jewish school, and across the street is the former Jewish Community building. I was told that the carved decoration represents the various fruits mentioned in the Torah.

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