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)
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Look at those pillars (more of Łańcut Synagogue). They don’t build ’em like they used to.
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:
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.
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).”
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?