Polish Museum Set To Open Spectacular Window on Jewish Past

Meticulous Recreation of Forgotten World of Shtetl and Ghetto

Intricate Recreation: Boaz Pash, chief rabbi of Krakow, explains the symbols on the reconstructed roof of a 18th century wooden synagogue that once stood in the town of Gwozdziec. The meticulous model is a centerpiece of the new Jewish museum in Warsaw.
getty images
Intricate Recreation: Boaz Pash, chief rabbi of Krakow, explains the symbols on the reconstructed roof of a 18th century wooden synagogue that once stood in the town of Gwozdziec. The meticulous model is a centerpiece of the new Jewish museum in Warsaw.

By A.J. Goldmann

Published April 01, 2013, issue of April 05, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 5)

Warsaw has a resonance very different from other cities that have erected high-profile Jewish museums.

“Practically nobody remembers that Warsaw was the most densely populated Jewish place in Europe,” said Zygmunt Stepinski, one of the museum’s deputy directors.

While many still associate Poland with Nazi Germany’s mass murder of European Jewry, the exhibition aims to show how Jews often found greater acceptance in Poland than in much of Western Europe.

A Jewish presence in Poland dates back to the 10th century. The Sephardic merchant and diplomat Ibrahim ibn Yaqub was the “Jewish connection to Poland,” and wrote the first reliable account of the Polish state under the rule of Mieszko I, the first crowned king of Poland. For the remainder of the Middle Ages, the Jews who settled in Poland traveled via trade routes from Spain and the German lands.

By the 15th century, Jewish populations existed in nearly 100 settlements, and Poland superseded the German lands as the center of Ashkenazi Judaism. All the while, the Jews of Poland contributed to secular society as they created a culture of their own. That culture and religion, is, by and large, the heritage of roughly 9 million Jews (about 70% of the world Jewish population today), whose roots are in the historic territory of Poland.

The Holocaust decimated that world. Of the 3.5 million Jews in Poland before the war, only one-tenth survived. The vast majority emigrated between 1945 and 1968, the year of a Soviet-led anti-Semitic campaign. Judaism was suppressed under communism, and only in recent years have Poles become comfortable talking about, and expressing, their Jewish history and origins.

The World Jewish Congress puts the present-day Jewish population of Poland at 5,000, although that figure is most likely a conservative estimate.

“As I always say, I don’t know how many Jews there are in Poland, but I know that tomorrow there’ll be more,” said Michael Schudrich, Poland’s chief rabbi since 2004. “Poles are increasingly embracing the Jewish contribution to their civilization and discovering their Jewish roots, and Jews are increasingly embracing their Polish identity.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Is it better to have a young, fresh rabbi, or a rabbi who stays with the same congregation for a long time? What do you think?
  • Why does the leader of Israel's social protest movement now work in a beauty parlor instead of the Knesset?
  • What's it like to be Chagall's granddaughter?
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.