03 March 2023

Hanbury Street and some
East End synagogues with names
recalling Holocaust massacres

At one time, Hanbury Street off Brick Lane had up to seven synagogues, many tucked away in courtyards behind the street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

Purim this year begins on Monday evening (6 March 2023) and ends on Tuesday evening (7 March 2023). Purim recalls the story of Esther and of the near-destruction of the Jewish people plotted by Haman, a courtier of King Ahasuerus of Persia.

On the Friday evening before Purim it is interesting to visit the locations of some East End synagogues that have connections with towns in present-day Poland, Lithuania and Belarus where the Jewish communities were almost annihilated during the Holocaust.

During my recent walks around the East End, I visited a number of synagogues and former synagogues, and plan to continue writing about them in the coming days and weeks. In my blog postings in recent days, I have written about the Spital Square Poltava Synagogue at 2 Heneage Street, the former Artillery Lane Synagogue, near Liverpool Street Station, the former Gun Street Synagogue, near Spitalfields, and the East London Central Synagogue, also known as Nelson Street Synagogue.

Hanbury Street in the East End was an important part of the Jewish area off Brick Lane at the beginning of the 20th century. A blue plaque at 12 Hanbury Street recalls Bud Flanagan who was born there as Chaim Reeven (Reuben) Weintrop in 1896. He was a member of the ‘Crazy Gang,’ whose most famous song was ‘Underneath the Arches.’ In his early days, he also sang as a part-time cantor (hazzan) in a synagogue.

At one time, Hanbury Street had up to seven synagogues: the Konin Synagogue at 48 Hanbury Street; the Glory of Israel and Sons of Klatsk Synagogue at No 50½, followed in time by the Poltava Synagogue also at No 50½; the Brethren of Suwalki Synagogue at No 56; Hanbury Street Synagogue at 60 Hanbury Street; the Lovers of Peace Synagogue and the Voice of Jacob Synagogue, both as 183/185 Hanbury Street; and Saint George’s Settlement Synagogue, at 192/196 Hanbury Street.

Many of these small, short-lived synagogues were founded by people who came from larger Jewish communities in Poland, Lithuania and present-day Belarus that were almost totally annihilated during the Holocaust and World War II.

The Konin Synagogue, once at 48 Hanbury Street, took its name from Konin in central Poland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The Konin Synagogue, once at 48 Hanbury Street, was also known as the United Brethren of Konia or Brothers of Konin.

This synagogue took its name from Konin, a town in central Poland, and until the 1930s Jews were 30% of Konin’s population. During the Holocaust, the Nazis many of the town’s Jews in the surrounding forests, and in mass executions 95% of Konin’s Jews were killed or sent to concentration camps. In August 1943, the Jews at the labour camp at Konin, led by Rabbi Joshua Moshe Aaronson, burned down the huts in the camp and tried to escape. Almost all were killed.

The synagogue at 48 Hanbury Street was founded between 1881 and 1887, and it was one of the congregations involved in the formation of the Federation of Synagogues in 1887. At one time, it had 45 members. It had closed by 1906.

The B’nai Klatsk Synagogue was at 50½ Hanbury Street … about 4,000 Jews were murdered in a massacre in Kletsk on 6 October 1941 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The B’nai Klatsk Synagogue, also known as the Glory of Israel and Sons of Klatsk Synagogue, was at 50½ Hanbury Street. The Poltava Synagogue had been at this address from 1915 before moving short distance to Heneage Street.

This synagogue was almost hidden from view and was accessed through a small passage or alleyway through the buildings on Hanbury Street.

The B’nai Klatsk Synagogue seems to have taken its name from Kletsk, a city now in the Minsk Region of Belarus, but part of Poland in the 1920s and 1930s. Kletsk had a population of about 8,000 in 1903, of whom about 6,000 were Jews. During the Holocaust, about 4,000 Jews were murdered in a massacre in the town on 6 October 1941. The remaining 2,000 Jews were sent to concentration camps in 1942, and the Holocaust brought an end to a vibrant Jewish life.

The Glory of Israel and Sons of Klatsk Synagogue was at 50½ Hanbury Street from the late 1920s until it closed in the mid-1930s, when it was incorporated into the Mile End Town Synagogue.

The Mile End Town Synagogue, which was founded in 1880, was also known as Great Mile End New Town Synagogue or Dunk Street Chevra. It was at 39 Dunk Street, Whitechapel, and it too was one of the congregations involved in the formation of the Federation of Synagogues in 1887.

The Mile End Town Synagogue closed around 1956, the neighbourhood around Dunk Street was redeveloped and Dunk Street no longer exists.

The Brethren of Suwalki Synagogue was once at 56 Hanbury Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The Brethren of Suwalki Synagogue was once at 56 Hanbury Street. Suwalki is in north-east Poland, close to the provinces of Kovno, Vilno and the city of Grodno, and about 30 km from the border with Lithuania. It was in of Lithuania until 1386, when it became part of Poland. It was absorbed into the Tsarist empire in 1815, and remained under Russian rule until after World War I, when the area was divided between Poland and Lithuania.

Jewish life in Suwalki began only in the early 19th century, and by 1862 the city had a Jewish population of 7,165.

During the Polish uprising in 1863, the Jews of Suwalki suffered at the hands of both Poles and Cossacks. Yet, by 1908 there were about 13,000 Jews in Suwalki, and 10,000-11,000 at the beginning of World War II, with about 27 synagogues and Jewish congregations, as well as a Jewish-run hotel, hospital and schools. Avraham Stern, founder of the ‘Stern Gang,’ was born and raised in Suwalki.

When the Nazis invaded Poland, they changed the name of Suwalki to Sudauen, and incorporated it into East Prussia. They forced the city’s Jews to live in a new ghetto until most of them were murdered in the Holocaust.

Today, Suwalki has the highest unemployment rate in Poland, and the only memory of the Jewish community who lived there for 130 years is the empty silent cemetery where 32,000 Jews are buried

Hanbury Street Synagogue was at 60 Hanbury Street in the early 20th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Hanbury Street Synagogue was at 60 Hanbury Street for about two or three years in the early 1900s. This too was a synagogue that was almost hidden from view and it was reached through a small passage or alleyway through the buildings on Hanbury Street.

It was founded by 1905, when it had about 70 members. It was an affiliated synagogue of the Federation of Synagogues and closed after 1906.

The Lovers of Peace Synagogue, also known as the Voice of Jacob Synagogue, was at 183/185 Hanbury Street, and also included the Great Garden Street Talmud Torah.

The congregation may have been founded in 1890, although it was only at Hanbury Street in from the 1920s or 1930s. It too was an affiliated to the Federation of Synagogues, and it closed around 1951.

Today, the Montefiore Centre is at 183/185 Hanbury Street. But the stories of the Montefiore Centre and the Saint George’s Settlement Synagogue, formerly at 192/196 Hanbury Street, and the stories of Robert Sebag Montefiore and Sir Basil Henriques, are stories for another day.

Shabbat Shalom, Chag Purim Sameach!

Hanbury Street was once at the heart of an East End Jewish community with origins in Poland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

A journey through Lent 2023
with Samuel Johnson (10)

‘Art is long, and life is short’ … a saddleback tomb in Saint Michael’s churchyard, Lichfield, where generations of Samuel Johnson’s family are buried (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During Lent this year, I am taking time each morning to reflect on words from Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), the Lichfield-born lexicographer and writer who compiled the first authoritative English-language dictionary.

In his biography, James Boswell recalls how Johnson said famously and wittily:

Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.

But Johnson also wrote in the Rambler (No 17), on 15 May 1750:

The uncertainty of our duration ought at once to set bounds to our designs, and add incitements to our industry; and when we find ourselves inclined either to immensity in our schemes, or sluggishness in our endeavours, we may either check or animate ourselves, by recollecting, with the father of physic, that art is long, and life is short.

Continued tomorrow

Yesterday’s reflection