Poland Jewish History

Prior to World War II, Poland was the guiding light of world Jewry for almost 1,000 years: religious studies flourished and major developments in secular Jewish culture took root. Home to 3.5 million Jews prior to World War II, Poland had the largest Jewish community in Europe. Poland is where we come from.

More than 70 percent of American Jews trace their lineage to Poland, and 60 percent of Jews living in Israel come from families with roots in Poland. Poland is central to the construction of Jewish people. Poland is also thought of as the cradle of Ashkenazi heritage, which has shaped present-day North American Jewish communities and Israeli national culture. 

This narrative is often understandably overshadowed by the Holocaust and the void that it left. However, the story of Judaism in Poland did not end with the Holocaust. This is clear when one looks at the Holocaust survivors and their descendants, Poland's post-war Jewish generations, who are claiming their heritage and identity with fearlessness, intelligence, and vision for the Jewish future.

The renaissance of Jewish communal and cultural life in Poland is a post-Holocaust, post-Communist phenomenon of a leading, emerging democracy in the European Union. This new democracy has allowed the truth about Jewish life in Poland to emerge through education reforms that foster a growing intolerance of anti-Semitism and an inclusion of Jewish participation in civil society. Polish Jewish youth are eager to participate in this democracy, and continue to fight against anti-Semitism in all of its forms.

"The flowering of Judaism has gone hand in hand with the flowering of democracy. Jews have historically suffered where democracy suffers and thrived where democracy thrives. This has been the historical model for hundreds of years. What is happening now in Poland is a replay of conditions that have benefited Jews and Judaism historically. It is exciting to see the interest of non-Jewish Poles in things Jewish. "  By Dr. Arnold Eisen, Chancellor, Jewish Theological Seminary