In the past 15 years I have been to Poland many times and sometimes I feel like I know this country better than mine. I have especially been following traces of Jewish life in Poland and made some exciting discoveries I would like to share with you. It does not have to be only Warsaw, Cracow, Wrocław and Lódź but also cities like Białystok, Zamość, Łancut and Lwow. Today Lviv in the Ukraine make us feel again what Jewish life in Poland meant.
Depending on how much time you have, we can visit the following places:
The Classical Tour: Warsaw and Cracow or Łódź (three days) – What we find today of Warsaw‘s Jewry is very limited, but at least the most important synagogue of the Polish Jews is still there. The Prozna street offers you an idea of pre-war Jewish Warsaw. A must-see is the Historical Jewish Institute, where you can see how life in the Warsaw Ghetto was after having seen traces of the Ghetto and the Ghetto uprising. The two Finnish architects Rainer Mahlamaeki and Ilmari Lahdelma a built the Museum of Polish Jewry, whose permanent exhibiton is planned to open in 2014.
It is a three-hour train ride to Cracow. The Jewish neighborhood Kazimierz has become famous for Spielberg’s movie “Schindler’s List”. On a walking tour we will experience how Jewish life was here in the past, walking past the synagogues that are today partly still in use or museums. They are all worth visiting. The Jewish community of Cracow numbers about 150 members today. The “Galicja Museum“, which was founded by Chris Schwarz from Great Britain, has a very interesting permanent exhibition of Jewish traces in contemporary Poland. From here it is not far to the Cracow Ghetto and Schindler’s factory, which has been turned into a museum about Jewish life under the occupation.
Auschwitz is another day-long excursion: Auschwitz 1 can only be visited in larger groups with a guide from the museum. This is not the case in the death camp Auschwitz 2 Birkenau; Auschwitz Monowitz no longer exists. I learned a lot about the camps from my friend and Holocaust survivor Noah Klieger, and I would like to pass that on to you.
The Warsaw visit can also be followed by a trip to Łódź. Immediately we think of the ghetto that existed longer than the others, between 1939 and 1944. The Jews represented a third of the entire population of the city and one third of the owners of (mainly textile) factories were Jews. The Jewish cemetery is the biggest in Europe with 180,000 tombs. I am always fascinated by the Memorial of the Radegast train station, from where the deportations to the concentration camps in Auschwitz and Chełmno were organized.
Wroclaw and Cracow (three days): Wroclaw/Breslau is a city characterized by the German Jewry and from which famous rabbis like Hermann Cohen or Leo Baeck emerged. The synagogue “White Stork” was restored by Norwegian artist Bente Kahan, who financed the works. The Jewish cemeteries bear witness to a very active Jewish German society that once lived in the city. The families of Abraham Geiger and Ferdinand Lassalle are buried here.
The Jewish neighborhood Kazimierz has become famous for Spielberg’s movie “Schindler’s list.” On a walking tour, we will experience how Jewish life was here in the past as we walk by the synagogues that are today partly still active or have been converted into museums. They are all worthwhile to visit. The Jewish community of Cracow numbers about 150 members today. The “Galicja Museum,“ which was founded by Chris Schwarz from Great Britain, has a very interesting permanent exhibition of Jewish traces in contemporary Poland. From here it is not far to the Cracow Ghetto and Schindler’s factory which was turned into a museum about Jewish life under the occupation.
The East of Poland: Lublin – Majdanek – Zamość – Kazimierz Dolny (minimum 4 days): Lublin is considered the Jewish Oxford, although we can only find a few traces that bear witness to the scholarship that existed there. Very close to the city one of the German death camp is located: the concentration camp Majdanek. Zamość looks like a small city from a fairy tale that was designed by Jan Samojski in the 16th century as an Italian renaissance town. Its recently renovated synagogue dates back to the beginning of the 17th century. Kazimierz Dolny is very small but attractive for Jewish travelers: the former synagogue has a small Jewish museum with judaica. The trip can conclude in Warsaw.
From Cracow to Lwow (5 days minimum): Both cities are full of Jewish history, but what about the places in between? One of the most beautiful synagogues I have ever seen is in Łancut, but there are also synagogues in Przemyśl and Jarosław, though unfortunately in a relatively desolate state. Please note that Lwow is in the Ukraine, which is not a member of the European Union.