Resources & Travel Tips
Preview sections of FJCP Cemetery Restoration Guidebook
While our full Guidebook won’t be available until later this year, we are providing some preview material in the event you are interested in planning or starting your project. Right now, we are providing a list of sources which may be useful– which we call a Resource List and also Traveler’s Tips tailored for descendants traveling to Poland.
Please feel free to email us if you need advice beyond what is included below.
resources for descendants restoring their ancestral cemetery in Poland
Our Guidebook will provide an extensive annotated compilation of resources to consult for your restoration project. We will include books, websites to use for information, various organizations, and individuals. While this list is not and will not be exhaustive, we include information that FJCP members found helpful. In addition to descendants, this material may be of use to those with other interests in Polish cemeteries or just visiting Poland. The material below includes a shortened version of the Resource List under development that you may find helpful right now; please keep in mind the final version will provide more detail and more sources.
Oren, Dan A. 2018. The Wedding Photo. Rimmon Press
[Dan Oren is an FJCP member, and president of our affiliate organization Friends of Jewish Heritage in Poland; the book describes his experience in his ancestral cemetery].
Weizman, Yechiel. 2022. Unsettled Heritage: Living Next to Poland’s Material Jewish Traces after the Holocaust, Cornell University Press. [This is a scholarly historical treatment that includes Jewish efforts at cemetery restoration in a broader context and lays the background of all of our projects and the cultural environment we are working in.]
Key Non-Governmental Organizations playing important roles in the restoration of Polish cemeteries
Friends of Jewish Heritage in Poland (FJHP) -- (Dan Oren, President, also an FJCP member) A U.S.-based, volunteer non-profit organization providing support and advice for those involved with cemetery restoration. They facilitate interactions between descendants and authorities in Poland and facilitate funds transfer from U.S.- based donors and various entities in Poland. If you choose to collaborate with FJHP, the organization’s website will host individual project descriptions to facilitate descendants learning about the status of their ancestral cemeteries. They are working closely with most FJCP projects. Contact: https://jewishheritagepoland.org/index.html
Foundation for Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland/Fundacja Ochrony Dziedzictwa Żydowskiego (FODŻ). A Warsaw (Poland)-based organization overseeing some Jewish property in Poland in the absence of other owners (e.g., the Jewish Community). They provide support and assistance to cemetery restoration under or potentially under their jurisdiction as well as other projects. They will interact with local municipal officials and arrange for contracting for cemetery surveys, clean-ups, monuments, signs, rededication ceremonies, etc. They coordinate closely with the Rabbinical Commission. They are working with or advising all FJCP projects. We suggest contacting them to determine whether your ancestral cemetery is under their jurisdiction, and if so, recommend meeting with them on your first trip to Poland. Contact: https://fodz.pl/
Rabbinical Commission for Jewish Cemeteries in Poland (RCC) & the Chief Rabbi of Poland. The RCC is responsible for preserving Polish Jewish cemeteries and assuring restoration is performed consistent with Jewish customs. They also may provide general advice, help with local or regional contacts, participate in ceremonies, and advise on how to deal with mass graves associated with individual cemeteries. Involving the RCC as credible supporters goes a long way in dealing with local officials in your town. Thus, we strongly recommend that you contact the RCC early in your restoration planning and ideally meet with them on your first trip to Poland. Further, the RCC has published material pertaining to Jewish law and customs regarding cemeteries and their restoration: Guidelines of the Rabbinical Commission for Cemeteries https://sztetl.org.pl/en/tradition-and-jewish-culture/religion/rabbinical-commission-guidelines-for-the-preservation-of-jewish-cemeteries. Our understanding is that this material is considered “guidelines” and not “cast in stone”. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Matzevah Foundation (TMF) is a U.S.-based, volunteer, non-profit organization that advises and partners with descendants in all phases of restoration. Their primary mission is to mobilize volunteers to restore Jewish cemeteries and seek to reconcile Jews and Christians. Sites for restoration are selected competitively by a board; they are not a “for hire” service, but rather develop and focus on projects that engage descendants, volunteers, and the local Polish community. Each year, they are involved with several cemetery restoration projects in Poland and provide advice to many more. Thus, you should consider contacting them as you begin your planning, for advice, or possibly help with your restoration project. They have helped FJCP restoration projects at Markuszów and Przerośl as well as providing critical advice for Trzcianne. Contact: https://www.matzevah.org/
Other NGOs doing critical work in Poland of potential help to your project
There are several organizations that have provided tremendous support for cemetery restoration in Poland and have collaborated with descendants. We will provide details in the full Guidebook, along with examples of how they teamed with FJCP projects, we list them below with the expectation that you will peruse them a bit later as your project progresses.
Coalition of Guardians of Jewish Cemeteries in Poland https://cmentarzezydowskie.org/en/
Foundation for Documentation of Jewish Cemeteries (FDJC) http://cemetery.jewish.org.pl/
International Jewish Cemetery Project https://iajgscemetery.org/eastern-europe/poland/
Jewish Heritage Europe
POLIN Museum, Virtual Shtetl, Memories in Stone https://sztetl.org.pl/en/memory-in-stone
Examples of films with subject matter focusing on the restoration of Jewish cemeteries in Poland.
Recordings of international conferences on Jewish Cemetery Restoration:
Jewish Cemeteries in Poland: The Task Ahead (2020)
Restoring Jewish Cemeteries of Poland 2021: The Task Ahead https://jewishheritagepoland.org/conference.html
Polish-Jewish Genealogy & Protecting Polish Jewish Cemeteries
A Town called Brozstek: A film describing Dr. Jonathan Webber’s experience restoring his ancestral cemetery in Poland. https://vimeo.com/ondemand/atowncalledbrzostek
Silence and Stone - Selections: view film on our gallery page here
travel tips for descendants restoring cemeteries in Poland
Here, we offer specific advice about travel beyond what may be in current travel webpages or guidebooks based upon our experience during our cemetery restoration projects. We hesitate making specific recommendations beyond what is listed because individual preferences and needs vary widely.
If you are not an experienced international traveler, we strongly recommend you spend a few hours perusing printed and on-line travel guides, for example, Lonely Planet and TripAdvisor. These will help immensely with travel logistics, selecting a suitable hotel, learning about general tourist sites, and the Jewish sites you may wish to visit beyond your ancestral town.
Phone & Internet
Most of Poland is well connected by phone and data. There are some rural areas with no coverage. If your cell plan is too expensive for the time you spend in Poland (check with your carrier about international rates and whether your phone is unlocked), you may wish to purchase a SIM card. For example, we have had luck using SIM cards ordered in advance from Orange (a French company) which has excellent service through much of Poland. Polish SIM cards are also available at the various international airports in Poland and elsewhere. You may wish to look at coverage maps for your cell service particularly if you will be in a remote area. The disadvantage of such a SIM card is that your regular cell phone number will not work until you replace the original SIM. Many hotels have excellent free or inexpensive Wi-Fi. Also, WhatsApp is widely used in Poland.
1 / train travel
Train travel in Poland is generally efficient, comfortable, safe, and inexpensive. Several of us regularly take the train from Warsaw to places like Białystok and Kraków but have ventured as far as western Poland or Germany.
For more train info & insights click here
2 / project partners & local authorities
In some instances, FODŻ, for instance, might accompany you on a day trip to your ancestral cemetery to meet with local officials. Sometimes, partial reimbursement is expected.
3 / car rental
Car rentals are readily available in Poland at the airport and city locations. Note that an international driver’s permit is required (at least for Americans). Roads are well maintained and signed. Most cell phone navigation apps work very well in Poland. Some FJCP members have driven extensively in Poland, others have been reluctant to do.
4 / driver (presumably English speaking)
It is possible that you may be able to hire a car and driver to take you to specific locations. This may be less expensive than hiring a licensed tour guide, particularly if you want to spend a lot of time at one or two locations. Though this has been recommended to us, we don’t have direct experience.
5 / taxis & ride shares
Taxis are available in many areas but may overcharge tourists particularly to/from the airport or hotels. Uber is also widely available in the larger cities and is generally less expensive than taxis. You might be able to get an Uber on an hourly basis.
There is a wide range of hotels available in the main cities, and in the locations that we use as a base for our projects. While the choice depends on opinion, at least one of us is fond of the Warsaw Marriott because it is adjacent to the train station and the hotel porters will carry your luggage and even put in on the train if you ask. The Warsaw Airport Renaissance and Courtyard are across the street from the airport and thus are convenient if you have a very late arrival or early departure. There are many both less expensive and more luxurious equally satisfactory hotels in Warsaw.
In the smaller towns with no convenient hotels, some of us have made arrangements to stay in agro-tourist facilities. These may be found either using a web search or an on-line travel agent such as Booking.com. These are very popular with the Poles and book up early. Although we generally make reservations in January for August, they may be available on short notice. Note that not all accommodations have air conditioning; if this is an issue for you, be sure to investigate and confirm in advance.
Translation on the go
Having the Google Translate app on your phone is handy for reading signs, menus, etc. Be sure to download the Polish Language module before you leave.
Almost all businesses take credit cards. If asked whether you want to pay in Polish złoty or the currency your card uses, it is usually less expensive to pay in złoty. As of the last writing, there is no way to add a tip onto credit card charges in restaurants, so be sure to have a supply of cash for and approximately 10% cash tip as you see fit. Make sure that your credit card does not have a foreign transaction fee (sometimes 3%). Automatic Teller Machines (ATM) are widely available in the airports and often even small towns. So, there is no need to take a supply of złoty into Poland. Note that foreign currencies are generally not accepted. (Euros are used in Lithuania.)
Food & Dining
English language menus are available in many restaurants, though you may need to specifically ask.
Kosher food is available in several Warsaw restaurants and possibly other big cities. It is a good idea to research your needs before you leave. You might contact the Rabbinate, Chabad or the Warsaw JCC about kosher food.
Vegetarian and vegan food is widely available everywhere in Poland.
If you are fortunate enough to be invited into someone’s home, your host may request that you take off your shoes. This is common but not universal and you should be prepared to do so. You should consider presenting your host with a small gift, a souvenir from your hometown or perhaps flowers or chocolates.
Planning Air Travel
It is generally wise to purchase your tickets at least ten weeks in advance, but you may wish to begin monitoring airfares as much as a year in advance. We recommend trying to get flexible tickets; while refundable tickets are typically more expensive, many airlines will currently let you cancel a flight and receive credit for future travel. As itineraries in Poland can unexpectedly switch, this is an important consideration. We suggest doing initial air travel planning on one of these two sites:
You can get preliminary cost estimates by varying your plans a few days and thus minimize the expense. We suggest booking tickets directly with the airline. Another factor to consider is the luggage allowance as the number and weight of checked bags can vary from airline to airline. If seat comfort is important (seat pitch and width), you may want to get precise seat measurements and optimize your seat choice by using SeatGuru (https://seatguru.com/). While Warsaw is the obvious place to fly, there are other international airports in Poland that may be either cheaper to fly into or more convenient to your project.
Travel & Guide Services
While it is likely that you will use an experienced licensed guide for an initial trip to the cemetery and primary sites you wish to visit if there are other sites you want to see, you may wish to save the fee by making other arrangements. Most medium and large cities have many inexpensive guides available who can provide a custom itinerary. These can be found on travel sites. We offer these based upon our own personal experiences but cannot guarantee your own experience.
1 / Agencies
Taube Jewish Heritage Tours: They provide custom tours all over Poland and are exceptionally generous supporters of Jewish culture in Poland. https://taubejewishheritagetours.com/
Travpol Travel Agency Ltd: Warsaw-based guide providing tours over much broader areas including eastern Poland. http://www.travpol.pl/
2 / Individuals
Witold Wrzosinski: Warsaw-based but provides service over a much broader area including northeast Poland. He is currently the director of the Warsaw Jewish Cemetery thus limiting his availability.
Franciszek Bojańczyk: Franciszek has degree in Hebrew Studies and Politics and is an experienced Warsaw tour guide.
1 / Individuals
Daniel Paczkowski: Białystok-based guide for travel and genealogy.
Dr. Tomek Wisniewski is exceptionally experienced in Jewish cemetery restoration and has helped several FJCP members to arrange meetings with town officials, produce videos, etc. https://jewishtravelagency.com/product/shtetls-footsteps-of-our-ancestors-bialystok-region/
Let’s Work Together
Need additional resources and tips? Contact FJCP for help.