Jewish heritage in Poland
Hebrew word for Poland is ”Polin”, which in a free translation means “you should rest here”, from Hebrew “po” – here, and “lanuah” – rest. The most tolerant country in Europe has been a paradise for Jews (from Latin “paradisus Iudaeorum”). The 16th century Rabbi of Cracow, Moses Isserles, once said: “if God hadn’t given the Jews Poland as a shelter, the Israel’s lot would have been unbearable.”
The independent Poland provided shelter to a big and rapidly developing Jewish community – in 1921, there were 2,8 million Jews, which made for over 10% of Polish population. For centuries, Poles and Jews were creating a multicultural community, and the Republic of Poland was a home, a motherland to both nations. They equally cared for the country and experienced the historical ups and downs. The fraternity was abruptly put to an end by the Nazis’ genocide, and weakened by the communism, causing a mass emigration from Poland. Although the 19th century Poland was not free form nationalistic, and even anti-Semitic sentiments, Poles make for the largest group among the Righteous among the Nations.
During the seven-century stay in Poland, the Jews shaped an amazing culture – literature, theatre, music, sculpture, painting, press, and architecture. Both the well-educated representatives of social and political life, and simple merchants and craftsmen presented Poles with the richness of their customs. It was precisely the culture that had such an immense impact on the mentality of the Israelis dispersed over all continents. What’s interesting – a few million Jews continue to feel emotionally attached to Poland.
Most of the historic buildings have been preserved in the larger cities, where the proportion of the Jewish population was quite large. The most significant places outside of synagogues and cemeteries related to the history of Jews in Poland are among others: Krakow, Lublin, Lodz, Warsaw, Kielce, Wroclaw, Kazimierz Dolny and Tykocin. Before the outbreak of World War II on Polish territory almost every large town was a Jewish religious object.
In the Poland III Reich created many camps that are now places of special interest martyrdom. The most famous and visited memorial museums are museum in Auschwitz, Birkenau, Majdanek Lublin, as well as former concentration camp in Treblinka, now converted into a monumental cemetery, where the tombstones are made of thousands of rock fragments. There where other extermination camps in Sobibor, Chelmno and Belzec.
See what is worth exploring in Poland