Festival recreates pre-war Jewish life in Warsaw

A Jewish cultural festival held in the Polish capital Warsaw every September re-creates Jewish life in one street of the city's former ghetto. The festival is dedicated to Nobel Prize winner Issac Bashevis Singer, who began his career in Warsaw before emigrating to the US in the mid-1930s. Radio Polonia's Michal Kubicki reports.

The Festival's motto - 'Singer's Warsaw' - refers to the famous Nobel Prize winning writer Issac Bashevis Singer whose international career began in Warsaw and who until the end of his life was spiritually very close to the Polish capital, a city which before World War Two had the third largest Jewish community in the world. The first Festival of Jewish Culture, in 2004, marked the centenary of the writer's birth, and this year too Singer is one of the themes of the event.

Its programme comprises a wide range of theatre performances, presentations of Jewish arts and crafts, panel discussions, tours of the Warsaw Synagogue and other Jewish sites. Golda Tencer of the Shalom Foundation is the Director of the Festival.

'There will be lots of concerts, dance performances, replicas of pre-war Jewish shops and workshops, meetings with writers, vocal classes given by Jewish cantors, including Benzion Miller from New York and special attractions for children.'

Most of the Festival events take place in and around Prózna Street, once a centre of Jewish Warsaw, currently badly in need of thorough renovation.

This week Prozna Street has become alive again with innumerable events and tens of thousands of people taking a journey into the past and visiting Jewish workshops, restaurants and art galleries. Miriam Gonczarska of the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland is aware that pre-war Jewish Warsaw cannot be reconstructed.

'We have a deep sense of loss, of lost potential and of loss of Jewish community life which was incredible in Poland before World War Two. Warsaw had the third largest Jewish population. We cannot reconstruct all this but we can preserve the memory and we can try to continue some kind of activities but we will never be what we used to be before the war'.

There are precious few sites in Warsaw today that can remind of the city's pre-war Jewish population. The reconstructed Nozyk Synagogue is one of them. Miriam Gonczarska will be taking visitors around the synagogue this week and she is herself looking forward to a performance given there by Jewish cantors.

'It has a very unusual history. It was built over 100 years ago by Zalman Nozyk, who gave it as a kind of memorial to his wife and his whole family and in the 1930s his family gave it to the city's Jewish community. During the war the Nazis kept horses there. The present synagogue is on the same site and for Jewish religious singers it is always a great experience to sing there.'

One of the highlights of the festival is an exhibition of photographs 'And I Still See Their Faces'. It features photos documenting Jewish life in pre-war Poland; they had been sent to the organizers by anonymous people from all over the world.