Polish Souvenirs (Polskie pamiątki)

Poland was once home to the largest Jewish community in the world. In the Holocaust (1941-1945), approximately 90% of Poland’s 3.3 million Jews were murdered, and after the war, when survivors returned to their homes, hundreds more were killed in antisemitic pogroms. Today, the Jewish population of Poland is less than half of one per cent of what it was before the war. 

The common visual stereotype of the Jew was born 2,000 years ago. In medieval art, the beard, hooked nose, and bag of coins were used to depict Jews as ugly, evil, greedy, and despicable – making them instantly identifiable often in places where no real Jews lived. This imagery endured when religious antisemitism morphed into racial antisemitism in the late 19th century. Across the world, in places like Poland, where real Jews once existed but no longer do, these imagined Jews live on.

These objects were collected in Kraków, Poland in 2022. Known as Zydzi, “Lucky Jew” figurines and portraits of money-holding Jews are sold all over Poland and can be found in homes and offices where they are sometimes regarded as good luck charms. In 2021, a year before these figurines were collected, the Kraków authorities barred their sale on the main Market Square and at stalls on city-owned land but they are still widely available in souvenir shops and other stalls across the city.