Legend has it that when the first Jews reached what is now Poland, driven from the west by Crusades, they saw the word “Polin,” or “Poland” in Yiddish, written on a tree. They mistook it for the Hebrew po-lin, rest here, and thus began one of the greatest and most fruitful Jewish settlements of all times.
Poland. 1000 years of Jewish life that, despite the losses of the Holocaust and the postwar anti-Semitic campaign, keeps growing. Though its numbers are small, in recent years Polish Jews have witnessed the establishment of the Krakow JCC, and a recent article suggested that some Israelis see opportunities for a new Jewish life in Poland.
Now, Warsaw’s Museum of the History of Jews in Poland has chosen to put that legend front and center, to represent its mission—to depict Jewish life in Poland as an integral part of Polish history, with all its highs and lows.
The just-opened permanent exhibit begins with “the forest,” a magical space that tells the legend of Po-lin in English, Polish, and Hebrew.
Perusing the galleries can take hours, but visitors can take a breather beneath the wooden canopy of the reconstructed synagogue of Gwodziec. And who knows? Maybe the 21st-century version of the legend will involve Jewish tourists resting in a Warsaw museum.
Watch the trailer for Raise the Roof, a new film about the Gwodziec shul reconstruction: