Marjorie Backman at Transitions Online discusses Virtual Shtetl, a new collaborative project dedicated to the active preservation and study of the history of Polish Jewry:

By launching the site in Polish and English, [historian Albert Stankowski] hopes to engage two groups with a stake in uncovering and retelling Poland’s 1,000-year-long Jewish history: Polish Catholics living in towns formerly inhabited by Jews, and Jews whose ancestors resided in Poland’s Jewish settlements, or shtetls.

Poland lost nearly all its Jewish population in World War II, although previously Jews had comprised 10 percent of the population, even 50 percent of some towns. (Several historians estimate that half of the Jews slain in the Holocaust came from Poland.) During the Nazi years and the communist period, public discussion about Jewish culture was impossible, according to Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich. Only after 1989 came “honest appraisal of what the Jewish presence meant in Poland.” For 50 years, Jewish-Polish relations were “in the freezer.”

But now, he says, “There are more non-Jewish Poles working on saving Jewish cemeteries, creating more Jewish festivals, adding courses in the high school than in any other country in Europe.”

Read the entire piece here.