Before the outbreak of World War II, there was a Jewish religious site in Poland in almost every larger town. In 1931, the population of Jews constituted 9.8% of all denominations in Poland. In 1939, official sources listed 1,415 Jewish communities, each with at least 100 members. All communes had at least one synagogue and a cemetery. Unfortunately, along with the extermination of the Jewish population, the Nazi German occupier systematically destroyed all objects of Jewish material culture. The present condition is only a faint remnant of the former glory of Polish synagogues. Tragically, these are almost exclusively buildings without internal furnishings, handcrafted items and, at best, with remnants of decorations.
Below you will find descriptions of the most often chosen Jewis heritage sites by ITS Poland tourists:
The biggest Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Poland. It is a new, ultramodern cultural museum on the map of Warsaw. It is situated at 6 Mordechaja Danielewicza Street in the place which was former Jewish district and also, later on, Warsaw Ghetto. The museum is a place dedicated to all those who are interested in heritage of Polish Jews and it is a symbol of breakthrough in Polish-Jewish relations during 1000 years history from Medieval times up till now. It is a place of meetings of people who want to know the past and current Jewish culture. The interactive exhibition was opened in October 2014 which means that it is one of the newest museums in the capital. The exhibition has 8 galleries of 4 200 m2 common area. These include: Forest (legends about beginning of Jews in Poland), First meetings (960-1500), Paradisus ludaeorum (1597-1648), Town (1648-1772), Modern Challenges (1772-1914), At Jewish street (1918-1939), Holocaust (1939-1945) and Postwar Period (1944 up till now). The galleries include 73 multimedia stands, 120 multimedia passive stands, 170 historic exhibits and 200 copies and models. The museum can be visited by 800 guests at a time. POLIN is an impressive modern museum which you really must see during your visit in Warsaw.
It is here that Hasidim Jews from all over the world come to pray at the tomb of Tzadik Elimelech. Jews from Israel, Europe, the USA and Canada who come to Leżajsk pray at the Tzadik's tomb, the so-called ohel. They believe that Tzaddik Elimelech, on the anniversary of his death (he died on March 11, 1787), descends from heaven and takes to God their prayers for health, well-being for children and success at work. They write them down on pieces of paper called quote and place them at the grave. Prayers are accompanied by traditional dances and singing psalms. Every year the tomb is visited by about 2.5 thousand believers.
Kazimierz District of Krakow, used to be a stand-alone city. It was granted city rights in early 14th century, not too long after Jews in the Kingdom of Poland received numerous rights, such as freedom of religion, trade and travel. Since the very beginning it has been one of the most significant spiritual and cultural Jewish centres in Poland and home to many Jewish scholars and artists. As such it was also referred to as Oppidum Judaeorum, meaning the Jewish City. In the pre WWII period Jewish inhabitants accounted for roughly a quarter of Krakow’s population with as many as 120 synagogues throughout the city, including Remuh, High, Old and Tempel synagogues. During the post-war era and under the communist regime Kazimierz and Jewish presence was somewhat forgotten. However, in modern days it is once more a vibrant part of Krakow filled with tradition and Jewish heritage. Tourist’s usually visit here the Old Synagogue, Remuh Synagogue, Tempel Synagogue and Kupa Synagogue. In neighbouring Podgórze district there is Oskar Schindler’s Factory Museum. Here you will find our article about Kazimierz District.
It is a memorial and museum of Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau which is situated in Oświęcim and Brzezinka about 65 km from Cracow. A visit in this place is definitely not an easy one. After a visit in this former Nazi German concentration camp you will definitely perceive the world in a different way. For many people it is highly depressing place and they are even unable to finish sightseeing of it. Still, it is important to know the history and take care that it never happens again. It is possible to visit Auschwitz with a group and a museum guide or individually. Museum of Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp is a cemetery of more than 1.5 million people. For this reason we ask to prepare a proper outfit before arrival and respect for the victims during sightseeing.
As a summary, it has to be stated that Poland lost a great piece of its identity after the calamity of WWII. Jewish diaspora was always important for the Poles. This is why Jewish heritage and material legacy is so precious and worth to discover. ITS Poland DMC helps in organization of sentimental tours and also trips to various Jewish attraction sites and memorials.
Author: Agnieszka Szwedzińska