Central Poland Synagogues and Yom Hashoa

Remah Synagogue, Poland
My son went to Poland. I told him I wanted him to take lots of photos. At first, he gave me the usual response about others taking photos or you can look them up on the internet. But in the end, he did take the photos, and I think his choice of subjects were telling. It’s a little like those Florida t-shirts: “My son went to Poland, and all I got were these photos.” I didn’t want photos of the other participants on this particular trip – in other cases, when it is a trip for fun, I enjoy looking at the others. But this was a trip about the story of Jews who had lived in Poland for many hundreds of years and were extinguished by the Nazis in the Holocaust.

The photo on the top is the synagogue of the Ramah (also spelled Remah) in Kraków. The Ramah, Rabbi Moshe Isserles, lived in Poland in the 16th century. He started a yeshiva and was a great halachic (Jewish law) authority. On his tombstone is inscribed: “From Moses (Maimonides) to Moses (Isserles) there was none like Moses”. (source: Wikipedia)

oldest shul in Krakow
In this post I decided to focus on the synagogues of Poland. In part, because they are beautiful. They tell the story of a beautiful civilization that existed in that part of the world for centuries. I like hearing about the positive. At the end, as a contrast, I will share a bit of the horrible.

The photo above is the oldest synagogue in Kraków. It was possibly built in 1407 or 1492. You can learn more on Wikipedia.

slomniki synagogue
This is the Slomniki synagogue. I saw a note from 2012 that the synagogue was supposed to be restored, but it looks like it could use some more restoration help.

Sephardi shul in Zamosc
This fancy interior is the inside of the Zamosc Sephardi synagogue. According to Wikipedia, it was built between 1610 and 1618 by sephardim (Jews who got kicked out of Spain) from the Ottoman Empire and Venice. A line from Wikipedia: “Today only 3 Jews live in Zamość. In 1939 there were over 12,000 who made up 45% of the city’s population. Of these only 5,000 managed to escape the Holocaust by crossing the Bug River, which in 1939 became the border with the Soviet Union. The Nazis imprisoned those remaining in a ghetto (the Zamość Ghetto), from which they were transported to the Bełżec death camp.”

interior painting synagogue Lancut
I really love the painted walls and ceilings of some of the Polish synagogues. This is the interior of the Łańcut synagogue. According to Wikipedia: “The Łańcut Synagogue is a rare surviving example of the four-pillar, vaulted synagogues that were built throughout the Polish lands in both wood and masonry from the sixteenth through the early nineteenth centuries.” There is a footnote that names a book: Synagogues of Europe: Architecture, History, Meaning, Carol Herselle Krinsky – sounds worth reading.

pillars in Lancut synagogue Poland
Look at those pillars (more of Łańcut Synagogue). They don’t build ’em like they used to.

artifacts Lancut synagogue
These artifacts are inside the Łańcut Synagogue. The open book in the middle looks like a chumash (one of the five first books of the Torah). I wonder what that stork with rings and possibly seals on its feet is supposed to represent. That metal kiddish cup looks battered.

These were not all the photos from my son’s trip – there were quite a few more. Maybe I will share some on a future post. As this coming Thursday is Yom HaShoa, the day in Israel to remember the Holocaust, I will share this shul in Auschwitz:

shul in Auschwitz ushpizin
Turns out the name of the town is Oświęcim (Polish) – it was also called Auschwitz (German) and Ushpitzin (Yiddish). The famous Auschwitz death camp is in a suburb of this town.

Krakow ghetto
My son wrote about this photo of a street scene in Kraków (photo is from World War II): “You can see the balcony on the corner of the street in the picture lines up with the one still there today (Kraków ghetto).”

Work Sets You Free sign
I conclude this post with “Work Sets You Free” – the famous horrible sign posted in the Auschwitz death camp (in German: Arbeit macht frei).

This is about all I can take for one day. My son took it all in his stride. What do you think? What’s your reaction?

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10 thoughts on “Central Poland Synagogues and Yom Hashoa

  • Taking lots of pictures is s very good thing – you should see my image storage- LOL.

    What an amazing experience all around. Trips like these give us an appreciation of our history (tragic or otherwise) and of other cultures.

  • Susan, I am so glad he went. He seemed to get a lot of out of the trip, for a 19 year old! I told him I didn’t get to travel much at all when I was a teen – it wasn’t in my parents’ budget at all (having me work to earn spending money was).

  • Thanks so much for this Leora, and “making” your son record his experiences. The synagogues are beautiful and that photo against the WWII one is very eerie. As you say it’s a terrible story, but good to look at the positive where possible.

    • He sent much creepier photos of the concentration camps and desecrated cemeteries. I may post a follow-up.

      Kathy, thank you for commenting … I seem to be able to update my blogs sporadically, so it’s always nice to hear from you.

  • The post and the photographs are a lovely tribute to the past, and the present. The eerie photos are a reminder to all of us regarding our history. There are no words to describe how I feel viewing the poignant photographs… I know you understand and you are aware of what I mean. Thank you for this compelling post. xo

  • Thanks for the photo tour of Poland, Leora. So many synagogues were destroyed by the Nazis and others, as you can see in the photos, are in disrepair. Poland was home to the largest Jewish community in Europe prior to the war. The Nazis killed 90% of them. I just did a little research to find out how many Jews live in Poland today. but didn’t find that number. Maybe you know. But it’s quite small, sadly.

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