Poland, Ukraine, and Belarus suddenly have a new reason to be at the top of travelers’ bucket lists – especially those with an interest in Jewish historical sites. Earlier this month, it was announced that a new EU-funded project will create a virtual passage through 60 Jewish towns along the Poland-Ukraine and Poland-Belarus borders that existed before World War II. Dubbed the “Shtetl Route,” visitors will be able to make use of guidebooks, dedicated tour guides, and an interactive website starting in 2015. Until then, here are a few important Jewish historical sites worth checking out…
In the Belarusian capital, which sits almost equidistant between the country’s border with Poland and Russia, an important (and free to visit) monument known as “The Pit” lies below street level, marked by a black marble obelisk with inscriptions in both Yiddish and Belarusian (few, if any, other monuments from the Soviet era incorporated Yiddish). The monument was erected in 1946 – right at the end of World War II – but in 2000, an additional component was added: 27 bronze figures, lined up in single file, descend down a grassy knoll towards the bottom of the pit.
Klooga, a small town 45 minutes southwest of Tallinn, was the site of a former Nazi concentration camp, and in 1994, received a memorial stone decorated with the Star of David. This past September, that monument was joined by a new permanent outdoor exhibit titled “Klooga Camp And the Holocaust,” featuring an assortment of rough-cut blocks of stone inlaid with historical information about life in the Klooga camp, which witnessed “one of the largest mass murders in Estonian history.”
Opposite one of Budapest’s (many) impressive architectural landmarks sits a public exhibit known as “Shoes On the Danube,” installed in 2005 by a pair of Magyar sculptors. While not as overt as the nearby Holocaust Memorial Center, this harrowing exhibit pays tribute to the hundreds of Hungarian Jews who were lined up and shot, one by one, by the Danube. In their memory, 60 pairs of cast iron shoes of different shapes and sizes have been welded into the pavement, alongside an inscription in Hungarian, English, and Hebrew.
Dubbed the European Capital of Culture in 2014, Riga is piquing the interest of countless new travelers right now – and you can bet the city center has plenty of museums, cafes, and vintage shops to keep culture hounds happy. But there are also a handful of Jewish sites worth visiting as well. For instance, a mostly outdoor Holocaust Museum contains a wall inscribed with the names of 100,000 murdered Jews. Just east of the Daugava River, in the Latgale District, is the Old Jewish Cemetery, which was a mass burial site in the early 1940s, and fell into disrepair in the 1960s. It’s now been rehabilitated into a memorial park.
We told you about boating on Lake Ohrid, but in the capital of Skopje, a more somber venue continues to attract record numbers of visitors. Located in the city’s former Jewish Quarter, the free-admission Holocaust Memorial Centre contains mostly audio exhibits on the history of Jews in Macedonia, whose stories take on a particularly poignant note once you discover, as the BBC points out, that Macedonia endured the most complete annihilation of Jews anywhere in the world.