Model of Grodno Synagogue

This is a scale model of a synagogue built ca. 1750 in Grodno, Belarus, and destroyed by the Nazis in June 1941

Robert Oakes Jordan and Herbert Sigurdsson

A distinctive and original style of synagogue construction developed in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth during the mid-sixteenth century. Elaborate synagogues were constructed entirely of wood, a fact that can be explained by the abundance of timber in the heavily forested commonwealth, but also by the great difficulty of obtaining government permission to erect masonry synagogues. The synagogues had high, self-supporting, multi-layered roofs, and domed interiors painted with lush floral and animal motifs, as well as framed verses from prayers.
The painter El Lissitzky, who visited a wooden synagogue in 1916, described the sensation as that of a child "opening his eyes upon awakening and being startled by insects and butterflies glittering in the rays of the sun ... giving you the impression of a world alive and blooming." But by the end of World War II, nearly all the wooden synagogues of Eastern Europe had been destroyed by fire, natural decay, war, or antisemitic activity. Today, they are known to us from photographs, historical accounts, models, or recreations.
This exceptionally detailed synagogue model was created in 1963 by Robert Oakes Jordan and Herbert Sigurdsson, friends of Maurice Spertus. They used some 200,000 pieces of sugar pine to recreate the wooden synagogue of Grodno, Belarus. The synagogue was built in the Ferstot ("Across-the-River") quarter of Grodno around the year 1750 and destroyed by fire from Nazi air raids during the invasion of the Soviet Union in June of 1941. The model is based on illustrations found in Maria and Kazimierz Piechotka’s landmark publication of 1959, Wooden Synagogues. Others who aided in the model project included James Williams, Albert Mueller, Albert R. Belrose, Charles Sangerman and Maurice Spertus. The scale is 1/36.66 of size of actual synagogue.

Name: Model of Grodno Synagogue
Artist: Robert Oakes Jordan and Herbert Sigurdsson
Origin: Chicago, Illinois, United States, 1963
Medium: Architecture, Metalwork, Wood
Dimensions: 16 15/16 in.x 26 3/16 in. x 21 5/8 in.
Credit: Gift of the Spertus Foundation
Catalog Number: 68.1.186 a,b