Have you heard the one about the guys trying to open a kosher cafe near Auschwitz? Except it’s not a joke, it’s actually quite serious. Last month Auschwitz Jewish Center has launched a Kickstarter campaign to convert the last Jewish home in Oswiecim, Poland (a town most people know by its German translation, Auschwitz) into a kosher, vegetarian cafe—and it’s been hugely successful. The campaign, which launched April 9, has raised $24,203, and the original fundraising goal of $25,000 has been pushed to $30,000.
The site in question is the dilapidated former home of Szymon Kluger, the last Jew to live in Oswiecim (he returned to his family home after the Holocaust, and stayed there until his death in 2000). The house sits directly adjacent to the Auschwitz Jewish Center, sharing a wall with the Chevra Lomdei Mishnayot synagogue, which the Center maintains. The Center, which opened in 2000, is located in the former Kornreich family home next door, and remains the only institutional Jewish presence in Oswiecim.
I’ve been to Oswiecim, and seen the Kluger house—though it was in such bad shape we weren’t allowed to enter (I was a graduate fellow on a program sponsored by the Auschwitz Jewish Center). The cafe is an attempt to save the historic building, and prevent its inevitable collapse. Tomek Kuncewicz, the Center’s director, told me the response to the campaign has been overwhelming. “The first week brought us to over 60% of the goal,” he explained, though unexpected construction costs have them hoping to surpass the original goal. “The Cafe will be an attractive addition to the Center’s offerings,” Kuncewicz told me, “allowing visitors and locals to spend more time onsite.”
Plus, anyone who donates $2,500 or more gets an authentic liquor bottle from the Haberfeld Liquor Factory, a pre-war Jewish-owned business in Oswiecim. It’s empty, but still.
Stephanie Butnick is deputy editor of Tablet Magazine and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.