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A Special Jewish Tour of Poland: Włodawa, Kock, and Kazimierz Dolny

Posted by Gil Travel on Dec 13, 2018 10:06:06 AM

A Special Jewish Tour of Poland Wlodawa, Kock, and Kazimierz Dolny header

If you’re thinking about going on one of the amazing escorted tours to Eastern Europe, we recommend this special tour of Poland. These are towns off the beaten path, but they ought to be visited more because they have a significant place in Polish history and in the history of Jewish people. These places shouldn’t be overlooked. Instead, their traditions should be upheld and the memory of the communities that once lived here preserved.

1. Włodawa

The existence of the Jewish community in Włodawa was first recorded in 1531, but there are no Jews here today. Though almost completely destroyed by the Chmielnicki massacres of 1648, by the late 1930s, the Jewish community consisted of 5,600 people (sixty percent of the population) engaged in all forms of craft production and trade. Soon, the Nazis set up a ghetto for the Jews from Włodawa, Cracow, Mielec, and Vienna. All were deported to Sobibor in 1942.

The Włodawa Synagogue is a complex consisting of three buildings, which became a museum in 1983. Włodawa Great Synagogue (built in 1764–74) is a beautifully decorated Baroque structure, the walls, and ceilings of which have Jewish and Polish motifs, such as a stork and an eagle. The Small synagogue (built in 1782–86) is a two-story structure with wall paintings reproduced from surviving plaster fragments and old photographs. Kahal office building (built in 1927) is now the museum’s administrative building. All three buildings have exhibition rooms for Jewish and non-Jewish exhibits.

The 16th-century cemetery was completely devastated, and the headstones from the 18th-century cemetery were used to pave roads and regulate the Włodawka River. It is now a park with a monument commemorating the Włodawa Jewish community, and with the gravestone of a Jewish partisan, Hersh Griner. From the 19th-century cemetery, only four gravestones were preserved.

The exciting Festival of Three Cultures is held in September, celebrating Włodawa’s Catholic, Jewish, and Orthodox traditions.

2. Kock

Dancing is the one who travels to Kock.

A verse from a 19th-century Hasidic folk song.

The long and proud Kock Jewish history begins in the 17th century. The community was badly hurt in the 1648 Khmelnytsky Uprising and annihilated in WWII. By the 19th century, Kock became a center of Hasidism as the home of the famous Rabbi Menachem Mendel. In the late 18th century, Duchess Anna Jabłonowska designated the northern quarter of the town as a Jewish district.

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The great synagogue was a large 19th-century brick edifice located in the district, and the mikveh stood opposite the synagogue. In 1939, Nazis ordered the Kock Jews to destroy both these edifices. In 1942, a ghetto was established, over 400 people were killed by firing squads, and all remaining Jews were transported to Treblinka.

The 18th-century Jewish cemetery was devastated by Nazis. In 1956, the town authorities ordered the land to be plowed and poplars planted there. However, from 1988 to 1990, the cemetery was renovated, a new brick ohel was erected on Menachem Mendel’s grave, and a metal fence was put up, with the Star of David visible on the gateway.

The Kock tzadik’s house is a wooden structure built between the 19th and 20th centuries, probably as a post office. However, this was not the house of Menachem Mendel, but of his great-grandchildren and the last of Kock tzadikim. The wooden buildings on the two plots that Duchess Jabłonowska gave to Menachem Mendel might be the court of the first Kock tzadik.

3. Kazimierz Dolny

Kazimierz Dolny is an official national Historic Monument, a tourist attraction, and an art center. The Jewish community here flourished for centuries. Yehezkel Taub, a disciple of the “Seer of Lublin”, founded the Hasidic dynasty of Kuzmir here in the 19th century. Between the World Wars, about 1,400 Jews lived in Kazimierz Dolny (fifty percent of the town’s population). In 1940, a ghetto was established for Jews from the entire Puławy County. In 1942, all Jews were taken to Belzec. Among the famous Jewish townspeople are the artist Chaim Goldberg and the journalist S. L. Shneiderman.

The old Jewish district was located next to the town square. The Kazimierz historic synagogue was built in the 18th century as the fourth synagogue on that site. The Nazis destroyed a part of it just before retreating. It was rebuilt in 1953 as a cinema, then restored in 1995 and is owned by the Jewish Community in Warsaw since 2002. To commemorate the victims, there is a plaque on the south wall, a sundial, and an exhibit on pre-war Jewish life. In the building, there is a kosher café and a shop.

Of the Old Jewish Cemetery only pieces of gravestones have been preserved. The New Jewish Cemetery, created in 1851 in a beautiful forest, was also destroyed, but since a local artist suggested to Nazis not to destroy the epitaphs while building roads but to turn them towards the ground, you’ll find many preserved gravestones on the ground and among the trees. In the 1980s, the Memorial Wall was built using these headstones in memory of the victims.

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Topics: World Travel