Prior to the Holocaust, there were thriving Jewish communities across the world.
The largest Jewish populations were located in Eastern Europe, with communities numbering 3,000,000 in Poland, 2,525,000 in Russia, and 980,000 in Romania. In many large Eastern European cities and towns, such as Warsaw in Poland, Jews fully embraced their country’s culture while also observing traditional Jewish customs. In Western Europe, there were also many sizeable Jewish communities, with 300,000 Jews living in Britain, and 565,000 living in Germany, for example. Here, most Jews were assimilated into the culture of the country in which they lived.
However, not all of Europe was as assimilated, or partially assimilated, as Western Europe and the larger towns and cities of Eastern Europe. Cultural separation was more apparent in rural areas of Eastern Europe, such as Poland and Russia. Here, small towns or villages called ‘Shtetls’ were comprised mainly of Jews. In Shtetls, people aimed to live a simple, traditional, life focused around religion, community, and family.
After the Nazis came to power and antisemitism intensified, Jewish life in Europe changed forever. This section uses case studies to demonstrate the diversity of pre-war Jewish life.