How the world remembers

December 1, 2011
Holocaust memorial  in heart of the city of  Berlin: 19,000 square metres are covered with 2711 concrete slabs

Holocaust memorial in heart of the city of Berlin: 19,000 square metres are covered with 2711 concrete slabs

For those seeking Jewish history, the story of the Jewish people has extended far and wide to touch many cultures and nations. From biblical times and the rise and fall of ancient empires to the persecution of the 20th century, Mike Lewis take a poignant journey in search of the sites that tell a Jewish tale.

● Paradesi Synagogue and Jew Street
Kochi, Kerala, India

The history of the Jewish community in Kerala, India, stretches back almost 2,000 years and has left a legacy in the region that can still be explored. In fact, the Paradesi Synagogue in Kochi is not only a site that speaks of the Jewish influence in India, but is also the oldest active synagogue in the Commonwealth. Filled with ornate decoration, this synagogue is now visited more by tourists than worshippers, with the Jewish community of Kochi reduced to a handful of members after the majority moved to Israel. The street on which the synagogue stands - Jew Town Street or just Jew Street - was once the heart of the community but now is hemmed by antique shops.

● The Old-New Synagogue
Prague, Czech Republic

Though Europe's medieval Jewish communities often faced terrible persecution, they strived to persevere and at times even flourished. Perhaps nowhere represents this better than a site in Prague's old Josefov District – it is Europe's oldest active synagogue and is known as the Old-New Synagogue. Built in 1270, the Old-New Synagogue still holds services Originally called the "New Shul", its current more contrasting name came about as "newer" synagogues were built over time.

● The Arch of Titus
Rome, Italy

Jewish history encompasses many times of great conflict and war, including several major clashes with the Roman Empire. It was during the first of these Jewish-Roman Wars that one of the most poignant moments in the Jewish timeline took place, the fall of Masada. Unearthed in the 1960s, the ruins of this great fortress offer a stark and evocative reminder of the bitter last stand of the Jewish Zealots. Of course, every story has two sides and those looking to learn about this encounter from an alternative viewpoint can visit the Arch of Titus in Rome – the ornate triumphal arch built to celebrate this Roman victory. Still extremely well preserved, the arch tells the story of the war from the Roman perspective, and shows the looting of the temple treasures – including the iconic image of Roman soldiers carrying off the Menorah.

Clifford’s Tower tells a tale

Clifford’s Tower tells a tale

● Clifford's Tower
York, UK

In the picturesque English city of York stands a lone tower with a horrific tale, but one which echoes the experiences of many Jewish communities in medieval Europe. It was here in 1190 that York's Jews made a harrowing attempt to evade a murderous mob, using the site as a final place of refuge. Trapped inside, many decided to commit suicide rather than perish at the hands of those outside, whilst most - if not all - others were massacred as they later tried to leave. The original tower was destroyed, but a plaque still stands to commemorate this tragic event.

● Warsaw Ghetto
Warsaw, Poland

The Warsaw Ghetto uprising of 1943 saw poorly-armed Jewish militia groups take on the might of nazi occupation, holding out against all odds for almost a month. The uprising helped raise morale among many facing the brutal Nazi regime and is remembered for the heroism of those who took part. Though much of the ghetto was destroyed, people seeking to explore its legacy can find memorials and monuments dedicated to those who took part. Among these sites is the Warsaw Ghetto Fighters Monument as well as the monument at Umschlagplatz, the site from where Jews were transported to the death camps. There is also a small but moving monument marking where the last of the Jewish fighters were killed, with an inscription in English which reads: "Here they rest, buried where they fell, to remind us that the whole earth is their grave."

● Dohany Synagogue
Budapest, Hungary

For most civilisations, the quality and scale of their building projects reflect their level of prosperity, almost a freeze frame of a moment in time. Indeed, one look at Dohany Synagogue in Budapest - still one of the largest synagogues in the world - portrays a thriving picture of 19th century Hungarian Jewry. A fusion of grand scale and distinctive Moorish influences, this striking shul, also known as the "Great Synagogue", is a beautiful illustration of the peaceful and prosperous world of many Jewish communities in pre-War Europe.

● Dura Europos
Subaykhan, Syria

The Roman era was one of our most varied and fascinating periods, often a time of persecution and conflict, but also of thriving, successful communities across the Empire. Once such remarkable example of Jewish populations within the Empire - and one found with an impressive set of frescoes - is at the Syrian site of Dura Europos, where one of the world's most ancient synagogues was uncovered in 1932. It is thought that the synagogue was filled in to help shore up the city's walls against attack, leading to the excellent state of preservation of the decorations. Today, visitors can view a wealth of Greco-Roman ruins as well as the structural remains of the synagogue. The frescoes can be seen in the National Museum of Damascus.

● Ostia Antica
Nr Fiumicino, Italy

Jewish influence during the Roman era often stretched to the heart of the Empire. Indeed it is in the ruins of Rome's ancient port, Ostia Antica, that you can find the remains of what is said to be the oldest known synagogue site in Europe. While Ostia itself is certainly worth a visit, being essentially a quieter, more tranquil Pompeii, the ruins of the synagogue serve to remind visitors of the long history of Jewish communities in southern Europe.

● Anne Frank's House
Amsterdam, Netherlands

There are many sites which commemorate the horrors and tragedy of the Holocaust, yet the house of Anne Frank is one place which symbolises a single, individual story while reflecting that of so many others. Having begun as the diary of an adolescent girl, Anne Frank's account of her time hiding from the Nazis has become a vital symbol of the experiences of those who suffered at the hands of the Third Reich. Now, Anne Frank's House provides a focal point for those wishing to remember, learn and understand.

● Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe
Berlin, Germany

The Holocaust left its mark across Europe and its legacy has driven a need to remember. Perhaps nowhere better represents this message than the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin. Its very location - close to the Brandenburg Gate and the cultural and political heart of Germany -reinforces the importance of this message. Made up of a vast granite maze covering 19,000 square metres, it presents a moving monument to the victims of genocide. The inscription from Primo Levi, in the lobby of the visitor's centre, is a poignant reminder of why it's there: "It happened, therefore it can happen again: this is the core of what we have to say."

See the Jewish history map at

Last updated: 12:50pm, December 1 2011