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A Guide to Jewish Poland
on April 19, 2004
What can you say about Jewish Poland in 264 pages or less?
This is a subject for volumes, not for a thin paperback.
I suppose that if I had to describe Polish Jewry "on one foot" (as they say) this book would be it. This is the book in your backpack when you travel to Poland. It opens with the Kaddish. You'll need that often, as you travel through the country.
It then goes on to list some of the Jewish landmark events in a "Chronology of Jewish Presence in Poland before and after WWII" which starts at 860 AD. That's just to give you a taste of how rich the Jewish heritage was in Poland.
There are several short chapters on the history of the Jews in Poland, and an introduction to Polish Jewish culture. But the most interesting and useful information in this book is the reference material. The book contains maps of various sorts, showing not just geography but also demographic information. There are lists and photos, diagrams, and names, names and more names.
So many contributed to the rich Jewish life in Poland that they are too great to mention. The section on famous figures and their contributions is simply a list of names
and their contributions. This hardly does justice so giants like Shalom Aleichem and Isaac Bashevis Singer, each one line entries under Yiddish and Hebrew Writers. Imagine that.
Almost a third of this book is a glossary of Polish Jewry. Here you will find an alphabetical listing of some of the most significant locations and a paragraph on each.
Though some of the entries are very thorough, I was disappointed in the number of items missing from this 100-page section, particulary the religious references.
The chapter on major Jewish centers in Poland, focuses on Cracow, Lodz, Lublin, and Warsaw. The book has an interesting chapter on tracing ones roots in Poland. It discusses the types of documents that are helpful for tracing family members and the repositories in Poland where they can be found. There is a list of modern day congregations and synagogues, striking in that it is two sides of a single page. There is another section on current Jewish organizations, recommended reading and an index.
I suppose if such a rich topic as Poland's Jewish Landmarks had to be summed up in a portable paperback, this book does the job. But readers of this book should take the recommended reading section seriously, and use this book as just the start of a fascinating study.