Encounters with Modernity (1772–1914)

At the end of the eighteenth century, Russia, Prussia and Austria partitioned the First Republic. During the century that followed, Jews living under each of the three powers became the subject of the “Jewish question”, namely how to maintain the distinctness of Jewish tradition while integrating Jews into mainstream society.

Both the state and Jewish reformers made efforts to modernize Jewish life. They created new types of schools, adapted Jewish dress to Western fashions, introduced new cultural norms. Many Jews were suspicious of these practices or even hostile towards them, and chose alternative lifestyles – the Chassidic movement, or education in modern yeshivas in today’s Lithuania or Belarus. The developing economy of the Congress Kingdom gave Jewish entrepreneurs, like Israel Poznański, the cotton king of Łódź, the opportunity to play an important role in the industrialization of the region. The increasing national awareness of Jews also found an outlet in the new Hebrew and Yiddish culture. New, modern Jewish political movements were on the rise, including Bundism, Zionism and Agudas Israel.

In the Encounters of Modernity gallery visitors will sit down at an interactive table surrounded by three thrones, representing the three partitioning empires. They will get to know the history of the partitions as well as their consequences for Jews. At a nineteenth-century train station, they will see the history of mass migrations, learn about the role of Jews in the construction of the railway, or the Chassidic train running between Warsaw and Góra Kalwaria, where the famous Gerer rabbi lived. The great Jewish writer, Isaac Leybush Peretz, will be presented in an interactive photograph, with every item on his desk standing for a given aspect of his life and work.

Lead Historians: prof. Samuel D. Kassow (Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut) – H2 of the 19th century, prof. Marcin Wodziński (University of Wrocław) – H1 of the 19th century.

The design and execution of the core exhibition was financed and overseen by the Association of the Jewish Historical Institute of Poland, thanks to the support of donors from all over the world.