VISITING JEWISH POLAND
Prior to World War II, Poland was home to approximately 3.5 million Jews (10% of the total population). Jews had lived in Poland for more than 1,000 years. It was a center of Jewish learning and the cradle of Chasidism. Poland was home to the major Chasidic dynasties, a place where the shtetl was celebrated for its piety and where Torah scholarship reigned supreme. It was also a center of Jewish culture.
By 1945, the vast majority of Polish Jewry had been annihilated by the Nazis, the Jewish centers destroyed, and the Jewish presence all but obliterated. However, despite the efforts of the Nazis to eradicate any trace of the successful Jewish presence in Poland, there were many symbols and institutions that survived. Jews from all over the world are once again travelling to Poland to visit these landmarks as a means of learning about one of the most glorious chapters in Jewish history. While many Jews travel to the towns and villages of their ancestors, most visitors concentrate on the three major cities, Warsaw, Lodz and Krakow.
Many travelers also visit Lizhensk, the burial site of the saintly Reb Elimelech, as well as Lublin – home of the Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin, headed by the legendary Rabbi Meir Shapiro, founder of the Daf Yomi. Most visitors also travel to Ger, burial site of the saintly Chidushei Harim and the Sfas Emes. Almost every town and village has some relevance to the rich past of Polish Jewry.
In 1939, there were 375,000 Jews in Warsaw, or one third of the city's population. As the country’s capital, it was home to some of Poland’s leading Jewish figures and a center of Torah scholarship and chasidism. Chasidim are fond of recalling the huge network of “shtieblach” that were on almost every block. There were over 400 synagogues in Warsaw, almost all of which were destroyed when the Nazis invaded and the Jews were thrown into the infamous Warsaw Ghetto, the scene of the only organized uprising. On the left side of the Praga River, where the Ghetto used to be, you can visit several monuments commemorating the Jews of Warsaw, including the Monument over the Ghetto Heroes at Zamenhof Square, and Umschlagplatz, a memorial raised at the very spot where Warsaw Jews were gathered in 1943, loaded on cattle wagons and transported to the death camp at Treblinka. It is still possible to see how Jews lived in Warsaw ulica Prozna, a street left largely intact from before the Holocaust.
Many visitors to Warsaw visit the huge Jewish cemetery near the Old Powazki. Established in 1809, it is one of the largest Jewish cemeteries in the world. Spread over an area of nearly 44,000 square feet (3160 square meters), the cemetery was left largely intact by the Nazis and includes the graves and tombs of a quarter of a million people, including the great Rabbanim of Warsaw as well as many secular giants in literature and the arts.
Of the more than 400 shuls that existed in Warsaw prior to the War, only the Nozyk shul survived and is in fact today a fully functioning Orthodox synagogue. Founded by Ryfka and Zelman Nożyk, it was completed in 1902. Restored in 1970, it reflects some of the majesty of the shuls that existed in Poland prior to World War II. During the War, the Nazis used it for storage. It is situated close to Plac Grzybowski, right behind the Jewish Theatre.
Kosher Restaurant and Catering
To serve visitors, Kosher Delight operates a restaurant at Grzybowska 2 (First floor). Glatt kosher, under the supervision of the Badatz Chasam Sofer in Israel, the restaurant offers a full menu of gourmet foods, prepared in an exclusive kitchen which is under constant rabbinic supervision. The restaurant can accommodate individual travelers, large groups, and offers takeout and delivery services to all hotels in the area.
The Jewish population of Łódź numbered about 233,000, roughly one-third of the city’s population, just before World War II. As Poland’s third largest city, it was an industrial city where many of Poland’s wealthiest Jews thrived amidst a sea of poverty. In the spring of 1940, the Nazis established a Jewish ghetto in a small section of Lodz, with the rest of the city completely sealed off. Only 1,000 of these Jews were still alive when the Russian Army liberated the ghetto in 1945.
Visitors can tour the site of the former Lodzer Ghetto. The Lodz tourist office offers a booklet with a popular guided walk around this former Jewish ghetto and indicating the most notable attractions along this route. The Jewish Ghetto is often referred to as the Litzmannstadt Ghetto, since this was Germany's name for Lodz.
The Jewish cemetery in Lodz is believed to be the world’s largest. Established the 1890s, it covers 99 acres / 40 hectares, and contains almost 70,000 tombstones. Visiting the cemetery is a good way to appreciate the diversity of Jewish life in Lodz as many of the rich Jewish industrialists are buried there with rather uniquely designed tombstones. One of those graves belongs to Israel Kalman Poznanski, who became the “king of cotton” in Lodz. He was the owner of the biggest palace and the textile factory in Lodz in the 19th century. The Poznanski Palace at Ordway Street still stands, one of the largest and greatest residences of its type. The Poznanski family owned three other palaces as well one in Warsaw.
The cemetery also includes the graves of some of the leading Rabbinic and Chasidic families that lived in Lodz. Just walking amongst the graves and reading some of the “matzeivos” can shed much light on a past that is unfortunately only a memory.
Kosher Restaurant and Catering
To serve visitors, Kosher Delight operates a restaurant at Pomorska 18. It is from this large state-of-the-art commercial kitchen that Kosher Delight offers catering throughout Poland. Glatt kosher, and under the supervision of the Badatz Chasam Sofer in Israel, the restaurant offers a full menu of gourmet foods, prepared in an exclusive kitchen which is under constant rabbinic supervision. The restaurant can accommodate individual travelers as well as large groups, and offers takeout and delivery services to all hotels in the area.
Before WWII, Krakow's Jewish population numbered over 60,000, or about 25% of the city's total population. Known for its royal palaces and gardens, the ancient city of Krakow was home of the famed Rabbi Moshe Isserles, the Ramoh, one of the most visited holy sites in Poland. Buried in the tiny cemetery adjacent to his shul, known as the Ramoh’s shul, are also many other Torah and Chasidic giants.
In addition to the Ramoh’s Shul, the Jewish Quarter includes many other sites to visit, including the Centre for Jewish Culture located just off "Plac Nowy."
The Old Synagogue
The oldest synagogue in Poland, the original building was built at the beginning of the 15th century and rebuilt in 1570 under the careful guidance of an Italian architect, Matteo Gucci. Today the Old Synagogue houses a permanent and fascinating exhibit of Jewish culture and its traditions, with a particular focus on Krakow's Jews.
The Krakow Ghetto
Like Warsaw and Lodz, Krakow’s Jews were also relegated to a life of squalor in a ghetto. The Krakow Ghetto was set up in March 1941 when Otto Wachter, the Krakow District Governor, decreed that, "for sanitary and public order reasons, a Jewish living quarter" would be established. The Ghetto was liquidated between June 1942 and March 1943, with most of its inhabitants sent to Belzec extermination camp, the Płaszów labor camp as well as the Auschwitz concentration camp. You can still see two preserved segments of Ghetto wall, with a memorial plaque and typical ghetto home. One of the famous rabbis to have passed through the Krakow Ghetto until he was spirited out of harm’s way was the sainted Belzer Rebbe, Rabbi Aharon Rokeach.
Kosher Restaurant and Catering
To serve visitors, Kosher Delight operates a restaurant at Kupa 18 (First floor). Glatt kosher, and under the supervision of the Badatz Chasam Sofer in Israel, the restaurant offers a full menu of gourmet foods, prepared in an exclusive kitchen which is under constant rabbinic supervision. The restaurant can accommodate individual travelers as well as large groups, and offers takeout and delivery services to all hotels in the area.
Of course, one of the most visited sites in Poland is Auschwitz-Berkanau, a network of concentration and extermination camps built and operated by the Third Reich in Polish areas annexed by Nazi Germany during World War II. 1.3 million Jews were gassed there or died from starvation. On January 27, 1945, Auschwitz was liberated by Soviet troops. In 1947, Poland founded a museum on the site of Auschwitz I and II, which by 2010 had seen 29 million visitors—1,300,000 annually—pass through the iron gates crowned with the infamous motto, Arbeit macht frei ("work makes free").