Our collection includes photographs, films and sound recordings, which illustrate the life of the Jews in Poland. It also contains maps, various publications, and correspondence regarding the preservation of Jewish heritage in the last decades.
The collection of photographs from the years 1860–2013 contains the documentation of approximately 500 cemeteries. These photographs are useful both in terms of studying Jewish cemeteries in Poland as works of art with unique cultural value, as well as for genealogical and historical research. In the collection there are also photographs of circa 400 synagogues and houses of prayer, that still exist in Poland (the institute published a complete list in 1996).
The section works closely with government institutions, the Jewish communities of Poland today, The Rabbinical Commission, regional conservators of monuments, as well as academics and local activists who wish to help protect Jewish heritage in Poland.
The Institutes visual collections have served many academic researchers and have often been used in future films and documentaries that dealt with Polish Jewish history, as well as the Polish and world media when dealing with Jewish themes in Poland. The department is the main centre of knowledge today about Jewish historical monuments in Poland, both as they were in the past as well as their current condition. The documentation of social life of Polish Jews includes both original family photographs, as well as reproductions of periodicals. It also has photographs of Jewish political and social activists from 1918–1950.
From the period of the Second World War there are photographs taken by German propaganda groups, as well as photographs taken by Jews themselves. There are also photographs of the ghettos in Poland, partisans from WWII period, Jews in the Polish Army, Jewish sport clubs, and Bund. The collections also include close to a thousand personal profiles, among them profiles of the famed great rabbis of Polish Hassidic thought, the Tzadikim, and a collection of photos from Jewish religious and cultural life in Poland and of The Jewish Historical Institute after 1944.
Throughout the decades many private photographs have been donated to the Institute, such as family albums with photographs of Jewish families and family life. At the same time field research had been conducted to document the current condition of various Jewish sites in Poland today such as cemeteries, graves, memorial places, synagogues, pre-burial houses, ritual bathing houses (mikves), and other former Jewish buildings. At the moment the holdings include more than 1500 document cases, each holding vital information about towns in Poland, the Jewish landmarks there, current local Jewish cultural activities, if there are any signs of anti-Semitism present, and records of Post Holocaust Jewish life or activity in these locations.
The Department also takes a close, detective like look at its surrounding neighborhood by researching the streets of Warsaw, some of which no longer exist in their former shape. Using pre-war photographs of Warsaw researchers can put together the pieces of the puzzle and solve meaningful historical, as well as personal, questions about the fate of individuals during the Holocaust. It is also continually conducting detailed research on the history and current condition of the Okopowa Jewish Cemetery in Warsaw.
We are also taking part in the research that is needed to the process of commemorating all execution sites and Jewish graves in Poland.
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