Jewish leaders in Poland will build a 207-meter (680-foot) glass skyscraper in what was the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II, a project that would dramatically alter the look of the historic neighborhood.
The building would tower over the Nozyk synagogue, the only one left in the city from before the war. It would include a new house of prayer, a kosher restaurant and commercial space, giving Warsaw's growing Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland a place to expand its activities and providing a source of revenue for the future.
The project is being portrayed as another step in the revival of Jewish life in Poland, which was home to Europe's largest Jewish community until World War II.
Today, after being nearly wiped out in the Holocaust, the community is gaining both people and financial support. Some Poles are discovering they have Jewish roots and trying to reconnect to that culture. And a 1997 law that compensates the Jewish community for lost property has left it with new wealth to spend or invest.
However, Eleonora Bergman, director of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, called the idea for the skyscraper a "bad joke," arguing that it would overshadow the old synagogue and damage the historic character of the surrounding area.
"It's aggressive from the point of view of space," she said, adding that she believes city officials charged with protecting historic sites "will never agree to this."
"It was a good custom before World War II to consciously build buildings for public use that were to beautify the town," she said. "We certainly cannot say that this high-rise building would make the city more beautiful."
Piotr Kadlcik, the leader of the organization proposing the project, said he and other Jewish leaders are working to meet city requirements, and expressed hope that city approval would come soon. He said the organization is looking for investors to help fund the project.
The Nozyk synagogue, which opened in 1902 and now serves the city's Orthodox Jewish community. The former Warsaw Ghetto is where Nazi occupiers confined Jews before sending them to death camps, and was the site of a desperate uprising by Jewish resistance fighters in 1943.
Most other buildings in the area were destroyed during the war.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Kadlcik described the new center as a matter of survival for Warsaw's Jewish community - now pressed into two cramped and dilapidated buildings.
"For the revival of Jewish life, this will be crucial for Warsaw," Kadlcik, president of the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland, said Wednesday. "We don't have space for our activities now."
Architects have drawn up blueprints for a building shaped like a sail that would use solar and wind power to generate its own energy. The tower would be attached to the Nozyk synagogue.
Kadlcik said there are between 5,000 and 6,000 active members of the Jewish community in Poland, a country of 38 million, and that there are perhaps 30,000 more with some Jewish ancestry.
The choice of the city of Helsinki is not incidental as the capital of Finland had hosted US-Soviet negotiations on the limitation of nuclear stockpiles in 1969