In this case, opponents of the plan say Jewish leaders don’t have the right to destroy a rare surviving structure, arguing it belongs to Poland’s larger patrimony. But Jewish leaders counter that it would be unfair if they are prevented from developing, when skyscrapers all around have long erased any trace of the neighborhood’s prewar character.
The white building is in a clear state of decay. Though it has a cellar that dates back more than two centuries, most of the building is about 130 years old and has undergone major transformations since.
Today the interior feels sad, with old linoleum and carpeted floors and cramped offices for those who work there. It does, however, boast a couple of notable features, including a wooden staircase and two plaques inscribed in Polish, Hebrew and Yiddish dating to the 1930s, when the building was a tuberculosis clinic serving the Jewish community. Jewish leaders vow to save those elements no matter what. But they want to replace the building itself with a taller structure that would contain plenty of space for a Jewish community center and additional space to rent out to support the community’s financial needs.
There are no specific plans yet for the new development because investors must still be found — and that depends first on getting permission to rebuild. But Jewish leaders say they envision a building that could rise up to 80 meters (260 feet) — or nearly 20 stories.
Fighting those plans is a small but determined group of architects and others — including Jews and non-Jews — who believe the structure, located at 6 Twarda Street, should be saved as a site of historical importance to all of the city’s people. They acknowledge that the white building is indeed in a sad state, but they accuse the Jewish community of letting it deteriorate to justify its destruction.
‘‘To me this is a scandal because it’s the historical legacy of all Poles,’’ said Joanna Jaszunska, a graphic designer. ‘‘This is the last moment when we can save the building.’’
They argue that despite all the changes to the building, it should be preserved because it reflects the changing fate of Jewish life in Warsaw. Built in the early 1880s, it has housed a mikveh, or Jewish ritual bath, and was also home to families. In the 1930s came the tuberculosis clinic, and just after the war it became a place where Holocaust survivors were registered and could lodge overnight.
‘‘We think this object should be saved and should remain as a memento connected to the history of the Jewish community,’’ said Janusz Sujecki, a political scientist who has written a book about the surviving buildings on Prozna Street. He belongs to an organization, the Association of Protectors of Warsaw’s Cultural Heritage, that filed a petition to the Cultural Ministry asking it to be declared a historical site.
A ruling from a separate state heritage office last year refused to grant the white building the status of a historical monument. While it acknowledged its long history intertwined with Warsaw’s Jews, it ultimately declared the structure ‘‘bereft of artistic qualities.’’
It’s not yet clear when the Culture Ministry will decide how to classify the building. But Sujecki says that if his side loses, it will keep fighting and file yet another appeal.