By Ruth Ellen Gruber
A new Jewish guidebook to Poland goes on sale this month, published under the auspices the Museum of the History of Polish Jewry, now under construction in Warsaw and due to open in 2013. Here's what the Museum's Virtual Shtetl web portal has to say about the new guidebook (it's unclear if there is an English language edition yet, though I assume there will be one):
Zabytki kultury żydowskiej w Polsce (Monuments of Jewish Cultural Heritage in Poland) is a new, richly illustrated, guide to places that merit a visit and closer acquaintance. The Museum of the History of Polish Jews has assumed patronage over the guidebook, which will go on sale on June 19th.
Books published under the Museum’s patronage have included popular-science works, albums and historical atlases. Today they are joined by a guidebook to Jewish historical monuments in Poland that survived World War II, published by Carta Blanca. It encourages readers to visit these sites during holidays.
MHPJ involvement in the guidebook’s creation was enormous, mainly because the source material for the work was provided by the Museum’s Virtual Shtetl community portal, which contains information on nearly 2000 localities within Poland’s current and pre-war borders. Our heartfelt thanks also go to Magda Propokopowicz, who was in charge of editing that material.
The guidebook is divided into 11 regions and describes 170 locations (both places that are well-known such as Łódź or Kraków, as well as small towns and villages) which were once inhabited by Jewish communities – at times very large. The Jewish contribution to each locality is shown against the background of its history. The text portrays eminent local personalities, describes the history of local synagogues, cemeteries and other Jewish communal facilities, and is intertwined with Jewish jokes, curiosities and anecdotes. The guidebook is beautifully illustrated with as many as 370 photographs by respected travel photographers Anna Olej-Kobus and Krzysztof Kobus. This fascinating tale of Jewish places in Poland is supplemented by a dictionary of basic Jewish terms, atlas of historical monuments rendered in a scale of 1:1 500 000 and an introduction to Judaic history, customs and traditions.
Since the goal of the guidebook is to popularise Jewish sites in Poland, it answers questions such as:
- - Which Polish synagogue is considered the most beautiful?
- - Where can one taste genuine kosher food?
- - When are Yom Kippur, Pesach, Purim and other Jewish holidays celebrated?
- - Which Polish city hosts every year the largest Jewish culture festival in Europe?
- - What is the town of Leżajsk world famous for?
- - What does the name Umschlagplatz mean?
- - Which Jewish cemetery features the largest number of tombstones and unique matzevot that survived the Nazi occupation?
- - What can be found today in Łódź on the grounds of the huge factory that was once owned by the industrialist Izrael Poznański?
- - Is it still possible to feel the atmosphere of a shtetl anywhere in Poland?
- - How to find the boundaries of the former Warsaw ghetto?
I have to say, that most of these questions are answered in my Jewish Heritage Travel: A Guide to Eastern Europe, which takes in 14 countries, not just Poland.
This new guidebook is by no means the first Jewish guidebook to Poland. There have been regional and local guides published since the 1980s, and a national guidebook came out around 1991.
In 2010, Pascal -- a leading Polish publisher of travel books, came out with an updated version of Adam Dylewski's 2002 English-language guidebook, which had the unfortunate title "Where the Tailor Was a Poet...Polish Jews and Their Culture" The new edition --which I saw on sale in Krakow this month -- is simply called "Polish Jews and Their Culture, an Illustrated Guide."