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Jewish heritage in Poland

Poles and Jews coexisted side by side on Polish territory for seven centuries. You can still find many traces of Jewish heritage in our country, whether material, like historical architecture, or immaterial, like recurring cultural events, trails, traditions and cuisine.

Before the Second World War, Warsaw was one of the largest centres of Jewish culture in Europe. You can visit the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews and numerous places of remembrance of the Holocaust victims in the Polish capital.

The POLIN Museum is an institution which restores the memory of the 1000-year history of Polish Jews. As you step inside, prepare to be amazed by the architecture of the main lobby, shaped like a gorge symbolising the passage of Jews through the Red Sea on the way to the Promised Land. Inside, marvel at the reconstructed vaulted ceiling of the 17th century wooden synagogue in Gwoździec and see the interactive exhibition presenting the traditions and culture of the Jewish community.

The Monument to the Ghetto Heroes, located in front of the building, was created as a tribute to those who died in the Warsaw ghetto. The monument is where the Memorial Route of Jewish Martyrdom and Struggle begins. As you walk along the route through the former ghetto, you will see plaques commemorating the leaders of the uprising as well as social activists. The route takes you to the Umschlagplatz Monument, marking the place from which Jewish people were transported to the extermination camp in Treblinka.  Cast iron tables on pavements serve as reminders of the existence of the Warsaw ghetto, defining its former borders, as do the preserved fragments of the ghetto wall in a courtyard between Sienna and Złota streets.

Make sure to go to the Nożyk synagogue, which is the only active pre-war temple, and to Próżna street in which the buildings survived the destruction of the ghetto. Each year, open-air concerts organised as part of the Singer’s Warsaw Jewish Culture Festival, are held in this area at the turn of August and September.

Singer’s Warsaw is an event which brings together two cultures: Polish and Jewish. Every year for nine days Warsaw undergoes a change: it becomes a city of vibrant music and many languages. Artists from Poland and from abroad present synagogue, folk and klezmer music, and the audiences can enjoy both classical pieces and those more avant-garde ones. The Singer’s Warsaw Festival offers a unique opportunity to take a closer look at the latest trends in art, theatre, literature and film. This annual event has been celebrating the thousand years of shared history of Poles and Jews already since 2004.

  • POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews
    POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews
  • POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews
    POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews
  • POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews
    POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews
  • Singer’s Warsaw Jewish Culture Festival
    Singer’s Warsaw Jewish Culture Festival
  • Singer’s Warsaw Jewish Culture Festival
    Singer’s Warsaw Jewish Culture Festival
  • Kazimierz
    Kazimierz
  • Kazimierz
    Kazimierz
  • the Remuh synagogue in Kraków
    the Remuh synagogue in Kraków
  • Tykocin
    Tykocin
  • Tykocin
    Tykocin

Judaica in Poland can certainly be found in Kraków, too. Between the Old Town and Wawel Hill lies the former Jewish district, the Kazimierz (the entire area along with the district of Stradom was entered on the UNESCO Heritage List), where numerous tourists head to enjoy traditional kosher-style food in one of the many restaurants following Jewish traditions.

The eastern frontage of Szeroka street features the most important Jewish monuments in Kraków: the Remuh synagogue and cemetery from the mid-16th century. The cemetery, founded in 1551, is the resting place of outstanding representatives of the Jewish community: rabbis, scholars and doctors. There are two types of tombs there: unique trapezoidal ones, and those in the form of free-standing matzevot.

Kazimierz offers a great selection of restaurants serving traditional kosher dishes. You can follow the Trail of Jewish Monuments which goes through the district. Those interested in the subject of the Holocaust should see the Ghetto Heroes Square, a fragment of the ghetto wall at 29 Lwowska street and the exhibition at the Schindler Factory in Zabłocie.

The synagogues and other monuments of Jewish culture, cobbled streets, as well as numerous galleries, antique shops, cafés and restaurants contribute to the charming and unique atmosphere of this place.

Since 1988, the Jewish Culture Festival has been held here every summer. It is one of the biggest events of this kind in the world. It becomes a gathering place for people from all over the globe, bringing together both Jews and all of those who are fascinated by this unique culture, who feel the need to experience it, to learn, to draw inspiration from it and to find common values. All of this happens via film, dance, literature, exhibitions, lectures, meetings with authors, workshops and, last but not least, the ubiquitous music. Exhibitions allow you to discover the works of renowned artists (such as e.g. Feliks Muszyński), theatre performances show the wealth of Jewish tradition (e.g. Fiddler on the Roof), workshops teach traditional dance (e.g. freylekh, hora, bulgar), while klezmer music concerts are a chance to hear unique melodies from weddings held at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. Festival participants can also enjoy traditional, kosher Jewish cuisine.

From Kraków, it’s a short distance to Tarnów, which lies in the same Małopolskie Voivodeship. In addition to the Renaissance old town, you have to see the revitalised part of the Jewish district of this city, in which Jews accounted for almost half of the inhabitants before the war. The preserved tenements in  Wekslarska and Żydowska streets present the typical compact architecture, with narrow passages between houses, confined hallways and minuscule courtyards. The only surviving – but also most important, as that’s where the Torah was read – part of Tarnów’s oldest synagogue is the bimah. These days it is in the centre of many events promoting Jewish culture.

Moving further to the east, you will reach Leżajsk, a city located in the valley of the San River in the Podkarpackie Voivodeship. Every year, the ohel of Rabbi Elimelech, who lived in the 18th century, attracts crowds of Orthodox pilgrims, mainly from Israel and the United States.

In search of traces of  Jewish heritage, it is also worth taking a trip to Tykocin in the Podlaskie Voivodeship. This small town once used to be home to one of the largest Jewish communities in the region. What remains of it is a Baroque synagogue, the second largest in Poland, after the Izaak Synagogue in Kraków. It was erected on a square in place of an old wooden temple, also Baroque in style but with Renaissance elements.

These are, of course, just several examples of Jewish heritage sites that you can visit in Poland.

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