Heritage & Holocaust Education

Organized groups visiting Poland with their intensive itineraries are often lacking a proper historical context. Facts they are presented about this country and sites they visit begin to have some meaning only if they are interwoven into the complex history of Central Europe. Apart from the general historical lectures we also offer very specialized research presentations giving an in-depth understanding of social, political and religious changes in Poland through the centuries.


  • History of Poland
  • History of Jews in Poland
  • History of Catholic Church in Poland
  • History of Polish - Jewish relations
  • Hasidism
  • Zionism
  • 20th century history of Poland
  • German occupation in Poland
  • Holocaust in Poland
  • Holocaust Education in Poland
  • Righteous Among the Nations in Poland
  • Jewish genealogy in Poland
  • History of religious and cultural minorities in Poland.

Lecture on German-Nazi Concentration and Death Camps for 200 Medical University students in Cracow. March 30th, 2012.


Nazi Concentration Camps:


  1. Name taken from the British Concentration Camps from the Second Anglo-Boer war.
  2. After "Reichstag fire" establishment of "Sondergerichte" to promote political terror. An estimated number of 70.000 German nationals were executed under this low till 1945.
  3. March 1933 Dachau as the first Nazi Camp for political prisoners in Germany.
  4. In 1934 the Camp are given under the SS command.
  5. Headquarters in Oranienburg.

Next camps being established:

Sachsenhausen - 1936

Buchenwald - 1937

Mauthausen - 1938

Flossenbürg - 1938

Ravensbrück - 1939 (for women)

It is estimated that before 1939 there were 165-170 thousands of prisoners sentenced for different period of stay  in the Nazi Concentration Camps.

Plan of Auschwitz


General Plan East - Generalplan Ost

Major Concentration Camps established:

Stutthof - August  1939

Auschwitz - May  1940

Neuengamme - June 1940

Natzweiler-Struthof - July 1940

Gross-Rosen - August 1940

Bergen-Belsen - October 1940

Majdanek - October 1941

Hertogenbosch - January 1942

Ryga - Kaiserwald - May 1943

Mittelbau-Dora - December 1943

Confusing German camp naming to hide their actual functions: Konzentrationslager, Arbeitslager, Vernichtungslager, Sonderkommando SS, Zwangsarbeitslager, Aufenthaltslagers, Durchgangslager, Transitlager, Schutzhaftlager, Familienlager, Internierungslager etc.


During the war the Camps were operating under the administration of:

  • Reich Main Security Office (RSHA-Reichssicherheitshauptamt),
  • Main SS Economic and Administrative Department (SS-WVHA-Wirtschaftsverwaltungshauptamt),
  • Inspector of the Concentration Camps (Fuhrungs-und Aufsichtshauptamt - Inspektion der Konzentrationslager), from March 3rd 1942 r. became part of  SS-WVHA as Amtsgruppe D. Konzentrationslager.

Major types of Camps Established:

Dachau, Stutthof.

Aerial picture of Auschwiz and Birkenau from 1944

  • Arbeitslager - compulsory labor camps.

Project RIESE Camps. Treblinka I , Pustkow, Szebnie.

  • Kriegsgefangenenlager - various POW camps also called "oflags", "stalags" or "dulags". Very often makeshift and primitively organized especially for the Soviet POW's.


Soviet POW in the Camps - 5,7 million of inmates with 2,8 million estimated casualties.

Soviet POW Camp

  • Police Prisons -  places of investigations, transit and executions.

Fort VII in Poznan, Pawiak in Warsaw, Montelupi Prison Cracow.

  • Germanization Centers - institutions mainly for young Slavic children to be Germanized and then adopted into German families.

Potulice, Kinder KZ Lodz.

  • Resettlement and Transitory Camps - camps used massively in German-Nazi racial cleansing policy by the means of  deportation and extermination.

Konstantynów, Izbica


    Belzec Memorial


    Majdanek Gas Chamber


    Treblinka plan by Samuel Wilenbergl

Belzec , Sobibor and Treblinka were operating under the cryptonym "Aktion Reinhard"

The memory about 3,3 million of Polish Jews before the Second World War which was to be erased by German Nazi and Russian Communist Regime is only now gradually coming back and is being incorporated into the history of Poland. Jewish genealogy travels and interest in Poland as a country are very helpful in researching and reshaping historical memory and contemporary Polish-Jewish relations.

For years Polish territory was linked with topic of Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camps only. Having the deepest respect and great knowledge about places connected with the Holocaust, we also try to tell the story of the rich world of Central European Jewry before the War. Although it was largely annihilated by the German Nazis, it partially survived in our historical memory of that time.

Without understanding the nine centuries of Jewish heritage in this country it is hard to understand the calamity of the Holocaust.

Shtetls, synagogues, cemeteries, beit ha midrashes are dotting Polish landscape and bear the reminiscence of Rabbinical sages, individual families, rich religious and political life of Polish Jews. All of that is waiting here to be re-discovered, preserved and brought back to public interest and heritage.

Those Jewish Heritage Tours are mainly aimed at individual travelers or student groups of various age and members of Jewish communities and organizations from the United States, Canada, Australia, Israel, Poland, Great Britain, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark. Taking into account the special needs of our clients we always shape the program to be a tailor-made offer.





Krakow, Casimir & Wieliczka Salt Mine

  • Sightseeing of Krakow as a city (up to 5 hours): via Royal Route, Market Square, Jagiellonian University (here we will explore a site of the first Jewish kehilat in Krakow), the Wawel Castle (Courtyard-main square) and of course the former Jewish district of Kazimierz - with its synagogues and praying houses. You shall visit Remuh Synagogue and cemetery - it is the oldest, the smallest though the most renowned synagogue in the world thanks to the 16th century scholar Moses Isserles. This synagogue is the only still active place of worship for Cracow's Jews. Furthermore you will enter the Tempel Synagogue which is the newest and moorish adorned one - every year it hosts artists performing concerts for the Jewish Culture Festival. If time allows, we can also visit Kupa Synagogue with its rich painting decorations or Galicia Jewish Museum.
  • Lunch break
  • Transfer to Wieliczka
  • Visit to the Salt Mine in Wieliczka - you will have a chance to explore one of the biggest Polish tourist attractions, the oldest Salt Mine in Europe, inscribed in UNESCO's 1st World List of Cultural and Natural Heritage. The visiting of the 20 historic chambers, reaching 327 m deep, connected by 2 kilometers of passages lasts approximately 2 hours, 15 minutes. The Mine is visited in groups.
  • Transfer to Cracow

Overnight in Cracow



From Shtetl through Ghetto to Auschwitz. History of life and death

  • Visit to Podgorze, part of Cracow changed into Ghetto by the Natzis during WW II. Following the traces of Schindler List and visit to the Schindler's Factory.
  • Drive through territory of Plaszow former Labour Camp in the vicinity of Cracow. Transitory Camp for Hungarian Jews on their way to Auschwitz.
  • Transfer from Cracow through Monowitz (former IG Farben) to Auschwitz Museum
  • Visit to Auschwitz I Museum Exhibition - Concentration Camp and international symbol of Holocaust.
  • Coffee/lunch break
  • Visit to Birkeanu Museum Exhibition - Extermination Camp
  • *Optional visit to the recently restored Synagogue in Oswiecim town (Auschwitz) and Jewish Education Center. Possibility of watching documental movies from pre-war Oswiecim (shtetl).
  • Transfer from Oswiecim to Cracow

Overnight in Cracow



Krakow – Kazimierz Dolny – Lublin

  • Drive from Cracow to Kazimierz Dolny (app. 4 hours – 300 km)
  • Lunch in Kazimierz and a visit to the town, synagogue and Jewish cemetery together with exceptional lapidarium erected form the regained macebas
  • Drive from Kazimierz to Lublin (app. 1 hour – 70 km)
  • Lublin Visit: Old Town Lublin with the Market Square and NN Theather and documentation Center; Chohamei Lublin Yeshiva, Old and New Jewish Cemeteries, visit to Brama Grodzka and places connected with logistics of Action Reinchard (Treblinka, Sobibor and Belzec)

Overnight in Lublin



Majdanek – Treblinka

  • Visit to Majdanek Museum (former Nazi German Concentration Camp)
  • Drive from Lublin/Majdanek to Treblinka (app. 4 hours – 230 km ). On the way we will make few stops in interesting places like: Kozlowka – Polish Nobility Palace housing now the museum of Social Realism; Lubartow – Jewish cemetery; if time allows we will make a little detour to Wlodawa to visit one of the best preserved synagogue complex in Poland and the nearby territory of Sobibor Camp.
  • Arrival and visit to Treblinka Monument (former Nazi German Extermination Camp)

Overnight in the Mazowsze area



Treblinka – Warsaw

  • Drive to Warsaw (app. 2 hours – 115 km)
  • Guided visit to Jewish heritage sites in Warsaw:
  1. Pieces of ghetto wall
  2. Authentic buildings left
  3. Nozyk synagogue - Jewish theater
  4. Monument of the Heroes of the Ghetto by Nathan Rapaport.
  5. Umschlagplatz - Deportation place of Warsaw Jews to Treblinka
  6. Jewish cemetery
  • Lunch break
  • Visit to the Jewish Historical Institute – we shall see three exhibitions here and a film showing scenes from ghetto time
  • Visit to Old Town of Warsaw

Overnight in Warsaw



Warsaw – Lodz

  • Drive to Lodz (app. 3 hours – 160 km)
  • Visiting Lodz: Piotrkowska Street, the Poznanski Palaces, the Synagogue of Wolf Reicher, the New Jewish Cemetery - the largest Jewish cemetery in Europe, the former Lodz Ghetto territory with majority of buildings preserved, recently opened Holocaust Monument at the site of the former Radegast rail station, used for massive deportations to Chelmno, Auschwitz and other Nazi camps.

Overnight in Lodz



Lodz – Cracow (via Northern Shtetls)

  • We shall visit 4-5 Shtetls (small towns which before WW II were predominantly inhabited by Jews). This is a very picturesque sightseeing track. The tour is enriched with Jewish music and excerpts from Jewish Literature depicting life in SHTETL.

Dzialoszyce - ruins of a synagogue and a monument to former Jewish Community;
Pinczow - renaissance synagogue;
Chmielnik - cemetery and synagogue;
* in a little town of Chmielnik there is a stylish and unique restaurant serving Jewish meals called "Cymes" where we can make a lunch break
Szydlow - medieval city complex with synagogue, church and castle. “Polish Carcassone”;
Checiny - small Jewish Town close to Kielce;

Overnight in Cracow


Years of experience and cooperation with various Holocaust Education Centers in the world have thought us of different motivations and needs of visitors coming to see Auschwitz-Birkenau. Understanding the serious drawbacks of growing mass tourist visits we decided to offer one or few days  academically developed and experience-based itineraries.

Those Holocaust Study itineraries are mainly aimed at students of various age and members of Jewish communities and organizations from the United States, Canada, Australia, Israel, Poland, Great Britain, Ireland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark. Taking into account the special needs of our partners we always shape the program to be a tailor-made offer.


We  always suggest to visit Auschwitz and Birkenau on a full day tour which begins in Cracow and gives the full chronology of Holocaust events on this territory. Before driving to Auschwitz and Birkenau we make an introductory visit to the Cracow Ghetto, Schinlder's Factory and Plaszow Camp territory. These 2 hours spent in the morning in Cracow help to understand the fate of Polish Jews and prepare for the more complete visit to Auschwitz and Birkanau. Additionally, this makes us start  in Auschwitz Museum around noon so after all the mass bus tours which come in the morning. In this way we are not distracted by the crowds of people.

Starting at noon leaves us a lot of time to explore Auschwitz and Birkenau calmly. If time allows, we also visit the only remaining synagogue in the city of Oswiecim/Auschwitz with its little museum devoted to life in Shtetl.


From Shtetl through Getto to Auschwitz. History of life and death.

9:00 a.m. - Pick up at any of the Cracow's hotels, Cracow-Balice Airport or Katowice-Pyrzowice Airport

9:00 a.m. - 11:00 a.m - Visit to Podgorze, part of Cracow changed into Ghetto by the Natzis during WW II. Following the traces of Schindler List and visit to the Schindler's Factory.

Drive through the territory of Plaszow former Labour Camp in the vicinity of Cracow. Transitory Camp for Hungarian Jews on their way to Auschwitz.

11:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. - Transfer from Cracow through Monowitz (former IG Farben) to Auschwitz Museum

12:30 p.m. - 2:30 p.m. - Visit to Auschwitz I Museum Exhibition - Concentration Camp and international symbol of Holocaust.

2:30 p.m. - 3:00 p.m. - coffee/snack break

3:00 p.m. - 4:30 p.m. - Visit to Birkeanu Museum Exhibition - Extermination Camp

4.30 p.m. - 6.00 p.m. - Transfer from Oswiecim to Cracow

* 4:30 p.m. - 5:30 p.m. - Optional visit to the recently restored Synagogue in Oswiecim town (Auschwitz) and Jewish Education Center. Possibility of watching documental movies from pre-war Oswiecim (shtetl).

5:30 p.m. - 7:00 p.m. - Transfer from Oswiecim to Cracow

6:00 p.m. / 7:00 p.m. - Drop off at any of the Cracow's hotels, Cracow-Balice Airport or Katowice-Pyrzowice Airport


From Kazmierz through Getto to Auschwitz. History of life and death.

9:00 a.m. - Pick up at any of the Cracow's hotels, Cracow-Balice Airport or Katowice-Pyrzowice Airport

9:00 a.m. - 11:00 a.m - Visit to Kazimierz - the former Jewish district of Cracow. Entrance to the Remuh synagogue and cemetery. Drive through Podgorze, part of Cracow changed into Ghetto by the Natzis during WW II. Following the traces of Schindler's List.

Drive through the territory of Plaszow former Labour Camp in the vicinity of Cracow. Transitory Camp for Hungarian Jews on their way to Auschwitz.

11:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. - Transfer from Cracow through Monowitz (former IG Farben) to Auschwitz Museum

12:30 p.m. - 2:30 p.m. - Visit to Auschwitz I Museum Exhibition - Concentration Camp and international symbol of Holocaust.

2:30 p.m. - 3:00 p.m. - coffee/snack break

3:00 p.m. - 4:30 p.m. - Visit to Birkeanu Museum Exhibition - Extermination Camp

4.30 p.m. - 6.00 p.m. - Transfer from Oswiecim to Cracow

* 4:30 p.m. - 5:30 p.m. - Optional visit to the recently restored Synagogue in Oswiecim town (Auschwitz) and Jewish Education Center. Possibility of watching documental movies from pre-war Oswiecim (shtetl).

5:30 p.m. - 7:00 p.m - Transfer from Oswiecim to Cracow

6:00 p.m. / 7:00 p.m. - Drop off at any of the Cracow's hotels, Cracow-Balice Airport or Katowice-Pyrzowice Airport


Few days expert, group tour of Lublin/Majdanek and Action Reinchard Death Camps of Treblinka, Belzec and Sobibor.

The three death camps of TreblinkaBelzec and Sobibor represent the ultimate evil of the German Nazis and ultimate destruction of Polish Jewry. Those places are often scarcely known or recognized because the Nazis did they best so that we would not remember them.

"Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it"

George Santanaya

Growing  cultural, political and social  diversity in the more and more globalized world has led to repetitive outbreaks of xenophobia, nationalism and anti-Semitism. The old, never challenged, cultural stereotypes are still used for social or political purposes, aiming against different minorities. The sooner we start to adopt to live and cooperate in multi cultural societies, the better for us and our children. Education seems to be the key for the problems from the past. Raising historical and cultural awareness of people can help us to prevent from repeating the former mistakes. The historically educated society is less pliable to be manipulated and more conscious and responsible for its political choices.

History education ceased to be only a tribute paid to past generations in recognition of their creativity, struggles and suffering. At present, education is a tool to help us predict certain political and social trends and counteract certain mistakes from the past from being repeated.

This social awareness education is particularly important in the time of information overflow when different forms of historical revisionisms are gaining access to modern media to be used for political purposes. Similar mixture of revisionism and politics led to the calamities of humanity in the past.

The social texture of Poland before the Second World War is a perfect study case of multi cultural society and challenges it brings. The later German Nazi occupation of Poland with all its deliberate extermination politics and cruelty against local population represents the very core of totalitarian, nationalistic and racist ideology. The German Nazi Holocaust organized on those lands shows us the most extreme case of genocide in the history of humanity carried against the European Jews. Places connected with those events are in majority still here as silent witnesses of the past sending us the strong message not to forget. 

There is probably no better form of education than facing the actual sites where the history happened to get the tangible proof of the past events. Educational visits to Concentration - Extermination  Camps, killing sites and commemoration places enriched with meetings of War and Holocaust survivors are creating  the best opportunity to teach this chapter of history.

Such field education experience promotes values of dialogue-based, open society, political and social awareness and global  responsibility.


Ibrahim ibn Jacob - a Jewish Sephardic diplomat, traveller and merchant from Tortosa in the caliphate of Cordoba in Andalusia. He visited the Polish Kingdom lands in the mid 10th century, travelling along the main merchandising trail of slaves from Slavonic lands to Cordoba. Etymology of the word "slave" is a not a coincidence here. In his account from this travel, as it was reported by the latter Al-Bekri, Ibrahim ibn Jacob mentioned the kingdom ruled by Mieszko (the first Polish king) and the city of Cracow.

The first major Jewish emigration from Western Europe to Poland was caused by the First Crusade in 1098. Under Bolesław III (1102-1139), the Jews, encouraged by the tolerant regime of this ruler (one may say an early example of separation of state and religion), settled throughout Poland, developing their communities as far as Kiev and the Lithuanian territories. Bolesław III for his part embraced the utility of the Jews in the development of the country and its commercial potential. The Jews created the very tissue of economic relations and under Mieszko III there were "brakteaty" early medieval Polish coins minted with Hebrew letters.

Map of Jewish immigration to Poland in the middle ages.


On September 8th , 1264 in Kalisz the Duke of Greater Poland Bolesław the Pious issued a Charter of Jewish Liberties, known as the Statue of Kalisz.

Some of the chosen paragraphs below:

1.  ... Should a Jew be taken to court, not only a Christian must testify against him, but also a Jew, in order for the case to be considered valid.

2.  ... If any Christian shall sue a Jew, asserting that he has pawned securities with him, and the Jew denies it, then if the Christian refuses to accept the simple word of the Jew, the Jew by taking oath must be free of the Christian.

10. ... As punishment for killing a Jew, a suitable punishment and confiscation of property is necessary.

11. ... For striking a Jew, the usual punishment in the country shall apply.

13. ... Jews shall not pay for the transport of their dead.

17. ... Any Jew may freely and securely walk or ride without any let or hindrance in our realm. They shall pay customary tolls just as other Christians do, and nothing else.

22. ... If any of the Christians rashly and presumptuously jeers at their synagogues, such a Christian shall be required to pay and must pay to our palatine their guardian two talents of pepper as punishment.

30. ... No Christian may summon any Jew into the ecclesiastical court in any way whatsoever, or for whatever property or summons he be summoned, nor shall the Jew make answer before the judge in the ecclesiastical court, but the Jew shall appear before his palatine appointed for that term, and furthermore the aforesaid palatine, along with our governor for that term, shall be required to defend and protect that Jew, and prohibit his responding to the summons of the ecclesiastical court. No Christian is to accuse a Jew of blood libel.

This document was later renewed and guaranteed by most of the Polish Kings till the mid 16th century. Such privileged status offered to the Jews was unprecedented in Europe. It was one of the causes of mass immigration of Jews to Poland, or rather Polin, which gained the country a nickname of being "Paradisus Judaeorum".

Picture of the first page of the Statute of Kalisz
illuminated by Arthur Szyk.


Following the new influx of mostly Spanish Jews with the reign of Zygmunt Stary (1506-1548), who protected the Jews in his realm, Poland became a spiritual and cultural center of the World Jewry. King Zygmunt II August (1548-1572), mainly followed in the tolerant policy of his father and also granted autonomy to the Jews in the matter of communal administration and laid the foundation for the power of the autonomous Jewish community called Kahal. In 1581 under the King Stafan Batory Polish Jews are starting to lay foundations for its almost complete administrative autonomy with the creation of Waad Arba Arcot which was an institution of Jewish Parliament in Poland.

Jewish religious life, based on general tolerance in Poland thrived in many Polish communities. In 1503, the Polish monarchy appointed Rabbi Jacob Polak, the official Rabbi of Poland, marking the emergence of the Chief Rabbinate. By 1551, Jews were given permission to choose their own Chief Rabbi. The Chief Rabbinate held power over law and finance, appointing judges and other officials.

In 1518 Shalom Shakhna established a Talmudic seminary in Lublin which later became the Europe's famous - and in the 20th century - the world's famous Lublin Yeshiva. From 1567, according to the royal privilege Rosh of the Lublin, Yeshiva obtained the title of rector and right equal with those at other Polish Universities.

Moses Isserles (1520-1572), disciple of Shalom Shakhna, an eminent Talmudist of the 16th century and the author of the fundamental Halakhic Ashkenazi interpretation titled ha-Mapah established his yeshiva in Cracow. In addition to being a renowned Talmudic and legal scholar, Isserles was also learned in Kaballah, and studied history, astronomy, and philosophy. The Remuh Synagogue was built for him in 1557. Rema is the Hebrew acronym for his name.

The contemporary picture of the Lublin Yeshiva building from 1930.


The mid XVII century marks the beginning of the end of the Polish-Lithuanian Empire.

Among major reasons of slow downfall which lasted some 150 years were: week central authorities and lack of institutions, lack of reforms and leadership, too large disparity between the haves and have-nots in the feudal system, too many external, political and internal social conflicts to follow and resolve, Polish gentry and nobility becoming loyal to external rulers.

The two events in particular shook the very foundations of the country and its social and political stability. At the same time they influenced seriously the condition of the Polish Jewish communities. Those were: the Bohdan Chmielnicki uprising of 1648, which pillaged the southern parts of the Kingdom and the Swedish Deluge of 1655, which brought almost complete destruction of the country's economic foundations.

This period brings massive destruction to the Jewish communities and seriously challenges their economic stability, rabbinical training and leadership. Progressing pauperization pushes Jewish population to live in smaller communities which produces the unique phenomena of a Shtetl. Linguistically the word "Shtetl" meant a little town. But a little town was by no means a Shtetl. Shtetl could mean only a little town in Eastern Europe, inhabited by Jews, either exclusively or in its majority with all the complicated tissue of their religious, social and political life.

The Talmudic learning became more and more limited and at the same time the religious debate became overly formalized, impractical and focusing on interpretative details more then on keeping the community coherent. At the same time unprecedented ferment of religious opinions was noticeable among the Jews of Poland, culminating in a series of false "Messianic" movements like Sabbataism or Frankism. Those mystical times brought the teachings of Israel ben Eliezer, known as the Baal Shem Tov, or BeShT, (1698-1760), which had a profound effect on the Jews of Eastern Europe and Poland in particular. His disciples taught and encouraged Hasidism, the new fervent brand of Judaism based on Kabbalah and devotion to life to religion only.

The environment of the Polish Commonwealth - wrote Professor Gershon Hundert in "Jews in Poland and Lithuania in 18th century" - profoundly affected Jews due to genuinely positive encounter with the Christian culture across the many cities and towns owned by the Polish aristocracy. There was no isolation. The Jewish dress resembled that of their Polish neighbour. "Reports of romances, of drinking together in taverns, and of intellectual conversations are quite abundant." Wealthy Jews had Polish noblemen at their table, and served meals on silver plates. By 1764, there were about 750,000 Jews in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

Picture of the Lancut synagogue.


The early 19th century brought new political realities to the Central Europe. Poland was no longer on the maps after being partitioned by its neighbors of Russia, Prussia and Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1772 ,1793 and 1795. The Polish Jews became the subjects of new rulers but largely maintained their Polish cultural and political identity which was exemplified by their participation in all three Polish national uprisings against the partition powers in 1794 under Tadeusz Kościuszko, in 1831 and 1863. Such political involvement was also exhibited during the Revolutionary Movement of 1905.

Most of the Polish Jews inhabited the territories annexed by Russia and their lives were seriously challenged by tsarist policy which alternated between harsh rules, and inducements meant to break the resistance to large-scale conversion. The Pale of Settlement and pogroms organized by the tsarist "Ohrana" security services killed or expelled many Jews of Russia's interior into the more peripheral former Polish territories. At the turn of 19th and 20th centuries the emigration of Polish Christians and Jews to America took massive scale. At the same time progressing industrialization and politicization of Polish Jews could be observed. In the former Polish south annexed to Austro-Hungarian Empire the region of Galicia was created to replace the geographical term of Minor Poland. Under the rule of emperor Franz Josef broad autonomy was granted to Galicia due to the political shrewdness and common sense of Galician intelligentsia. The Jewish Enlightenment, Haskalah, began to take hold in Poland during the 19th century, stressing secular ideas and values.

The heat of political debate caused by the growing political and security pressure produced a whole elaborate mosaic of Jewish political life in former Poland. Some of those political activities were important for Poland being reinstalled on the maps of Europe and regaining its independence in 1918.

In the 1930 Poland was inhabited by 3,3 millions of Jews who were making 10 percent of the total population. The Jews of Warsaw were making 33% of the city and average in other cities was around 25 to 30%. Polish Jews at that time were making most deeply rooted, most culturally, religiously, politically and socially sophisticated Jewish community ever in existence before. The literature of Julian Tuwim, Jan Brzechwa, Janusz Korczak or Antoni Słonimski is till this very day "imbued with the mother's milk" by every Polish child and a teenager.

Picture of the Jewish military section from WW I at the Jewish cemetery in Bielsko-Biała.


In late 1941 the Nazi Germany decided what is the next step in their anti-Jewish policy. This was also a time when they came across the technology of mass killing in gas chambers. Technology developed during experimental euthanasia program in the Third Reich - using carbon monoxide, experiments with gas vans in Chełmno where the exhaust fumes were directed into the back of a truck filled with people, finally experiments with cyclone B in Auschwitz I in September 1941. All efforts undertaken to make the crime more efficient and massive but also to make the perpetrators  more anonymous and less mentally burdened within the process. The purpose was to make the crime sanitized from emotions and a factory alike process.  With the massiveness of the crime there came a need to keep the major killing sites  well hidden from the sight of the world's opinion and need for perfect logistics. Auschwitz-Birkenau was changed to be a destination for international transports of Jews using its concentration camp history as a cover up for the new mass extermination function. In order not to block the technical capacity of gas chambers of Birkenau with Polish Jews, the German Nazis took a decision to open 4 major, extermination camps in Chełmno, Bełżec, Treblinka and Sobibór.

They were to be  built in scarcely populated territories, well hidden in the forests, far from Western Europe, built to operate temporarily just to kill as many Jews as possible from particular well planned territory and designed to be taken apart completely after the task is accomplished.
Chełmno - 18 months of operation -150.000 people killed. 
Belżec - 12 months of operation - 500.000 people killed.
Sobibór - 19 months of operation - 220.000 people killed 
Treblinka - 12 months of operation - 900.000 people killed.

Today no physicality of those camps exists. The German-Nazi crime was not only about killing the Polish Jews but it was also about eradicating the memory about their ever existence, the memory of their heritage and culture and obliterating a way in which they were killed. The crime was to be perfect and the cover up took a tremendous effort causing the current broadly shared lack of awareness of who the Polish Jews were and where they were killed.

Picture of the monument at Treblinka.


In the postwar vehemently changing reality in Poland the estimated 250.000 of Polish Jews who survived the Holocaust experienced growing anti-Semitism, political instability and lack of security. Those prompted large waves of emigration between 1945-1948 and 1957-1959. The communist regime in Poland was instrumentally using anti-Semitism in internal country politics which led to the wave of anti-Zionist/anti-Semitic events in 1968. The negatively burdened image of Poland as a country in the collective memories of Jews in the world can be anchored in this short time period just after the war when the Jewish refugees returning to Poland were betrayed and denied access to their homelands. At this time the atrocities were not perpetrated by some external authority of the Third Reich invading Poland, but by the very Polish neighbors with whom the last centuries of common country and culture had been shared. The waves of emigration and the isolation by Iron Curtain has pushed the Poles and Polish Jews into the two separate , independently constructed communities of memory about the shared and troubled past. Those few that remained carried through the tradition of Judaism within communist regime harsh controlled institutions. The 45 years of communism in certain level put the Polish -Jewish relations into a social and historical "freezer" and suspension in thick air of mutual stereotypes and blaming without a possible platform of meeting again.

After 1989 the democratic Poland from the very beginning started to look for and embrace its multiethnic past. Israel was among the first visited destinations of president Lech Wałęsa in 1991, after the official diplomatic relations were reestablished in 1990.

Poland was looking for its past but also more and more often Poland was looked for by the descendants of Polish Jews in the world.

Since the late 90's the concept of the construction of The POLIN - Museum of the History of Polish Jew was considered.

In 2013 in Warsaw the impressive building of the Museum was inaugurated to start its long awaited service as an educational bridge gapping the void of Polish-Jewish relations non-existence. On October 28th , 2014 the eight core exhibition galleries were inaugurated to strengthen the museum's message and promote the heritage of Polish Jews and more complete understanding of ten centuries of their history.

Picture of the building of The POLIN - Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw.
First monument to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising erected in 1946 in the foreground.