Europe

Poland – all about one’s history

Stained glass - Tempel Synagogue, Cracow, Poland | Photo credit: Grzegorz Korpas

Jewish Genealogy

Given the popularity of tracing one’s relatives and family history (Ancestry.com and Ancestry.ca and the popular TV series WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE), many people today are travelling to Poland, Romania and Russia to visit, and perhaps research, records of “where they came from”.

It has become important, especially to third and fourth generations of North Americans, to provide the historical information to current generations.

In particular, Poland has become a popular destination for Jewish heritage tours.

The history of Jews in Poland dates back over a millennium. For centuries, Poland was home to the largest and most significant Jewish community in the world. Poland was the centre of Jewish culture thanks to a long period of statutory religious tolerance and social autonomy.

Since the fall of communism there has been a Jewish revival in Poland, characterized by the annual Jewish Culture Festival, new study programmes at Polish high schools and universities, the work of synagogues such as the Nozyk, and the Museum of the History of Polish Jews.

For Jewish travelers, a tour to Poland may be a difficult yet essential journey. The statistics themselves are harrowing: During the Holocaust, 90% of Poland’s three million Jews were annihilated. Still, Jewish roots go centuries-deep in this country. Today, one can see important historical sites, as well as the vivid present-day return of a Jewish Poland.

People with Poland ancestors come to Poland for various purposes: sightseeing around Poland as a whole, genealogical visits (to find locations and often also long-lost family members in Poland, Ukraine, or Lithuania), or very often to undertake extended genealogical research.

Many tour companies around the world, but especially in Poland, have developed Jewish heritage tours in Poland. These companies specialize in Jewish guiding and genealogy services in the Warsaw and Kraków. Many specialists can also arrange private guide services lesser-known regions where ancestors used to live.

Should you be contemplating such a tour, it would be wise to try and do some research in advance of your trip. Many companies, with as much information as you can provide in advance, will undertake extensive genealogical research to prepare for your arrival.

These specialists can find and translate historical birth, marriage and death certificates in old Polish, Russian, German or Austrian archive registers; wills and notary acts; locate living relatives, heirs, and places connected with your family histories (photos, interviews with people and family members currently living in Poland).

Poland that was for centuries the epicentre of world Jewry is once again thriving and revitalizing, having thrown off the shackles of communism and now building the first democracy in Polish history.

Together with Christian Poles, the Jews of Poland are actively preserving Jewish memory and educating the mainstream society about its Jewish past.

Over the past 15 years, Poland has radically transformed itself into a vibrant country radiating with rich history and culture. Coinciding with this revitalization, Jewish life and culture in Poland are experiencing a tremendous reawakening.

According to Dr. Ron Wexler, a Director with a prominent Poland cultural heritage tour company, nothing can ever replace authentic experiences. The significance of an historical site tour becomes deeply personal for each individual participant. Walking through an old Jewish quarter, sitting in a century old synagogue, visiting a village and seeing where one’s ancestors lived, or participating in a festival to commemorate and celebrate Jewish life and culture with 15,000 others Jews is empowering, life changing, and impactful. Jewish history and culture becomes not just part of a faded past but a vital and living part of the present.

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