Virtual Shtetl – A community portal for Jewish heritage in Poland

General information

Domain: People’s heritage and cultural participation (Jewish history and heritage)
Title: Virtual Shtetl
Launch: 2008
Country: Poland

Project focus

Virtual Shtetl is a community-driven web portal that presents past as well as contemporary Jewish life and culture in Poland. Shtetl is Yiddish and means a village or small town. The main objective of the portal is to provide a unique social forum for everyone interested in Polish-Jewish life. While a lot of content has been provided by several cultural heritage organisations, the portal also invites and receives contributions of people from Poland and around the world.



The Virtual Shtetl portal has been established by the Jewish Historical Institute Association in 2008 and developed until 2012 when it was donated to the Museum of the History of Polish Jews. It is a “museum without barriers” which builds on the cooperation between several Polish cultural heritage and academic institutions as well as organisations in other countries (cf. the list of participants). For example, knowledge and content centres such as the Jewish Historical Institute, community, National Digital Archive and POLIN portal. Through the European Youth in Action programme also volunteers have been working on the Virtual Shtetl.

Financing / funding

Virtual Shtetl has been financed by the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage through the National Heritage Programme “Creating digital resources for the cultural heritage”. It received generous support also from the telecom company Orange, BRE Bank Foundation, Konrad Adenauer Foundation (for the German version of the portal) and others.

Content & IPR / licensing

Content presented on the Virtual Shtetl has been provided by the cooperating partners mentioned as well as members of the user community. There is also regular stream of news about cultural events and activities. While the content can be accessed freely for non-commercial usage, the copyrights are held by the portal operator and the respective content providers.

The portal actively invites visitors to contribute content: “The Virtual Shtetl is not a regular website. It is a community in which you, our internet visitor, can participate. Take pictures and upload them, collect memorabilia, listen to testimonies and exchange information.” Registered users can contribute texts, images, audio and video recordings, which usually are added to a town or other place according to the selected thematic category.

Technologies used / innovative features

The portal uses state-of-the-art web technologies and also offers a mobile version. The content can be searched in various ways, a simple search box, advanced search (e.g. selecting time, space, activity, etc.), alphabetical lists (towns, names of people), as well as on Google Maps.

Target users

The users of Virtual Shtetl are people interested in the Polish-Jewish heritage as well as contemporary Jewish life in Poland. The portal invites people living in Poland as well international users, especially people of Polish-Jewish ancestry, who want to learn more about their history and heritage and to contribute own content. The portal content is provided in several languages, Polish, English, Hebrew, German, Belarusian and Russian.

Lessons learned

Cooperation: Virtual Shtetl is a cooperative project of Polish and international cultural heritage, academic and other organisations. As a “museum without barriers” it combines content of several digitization and online community projects. Hence, it did not just establish “another” virtual platform but sought to cooperate with and integrate existing initiatives.

Content: The portal brings together rich historical information from cultural heritage institutions, civic initiatives and an international user community. Visitors can access an authentic, well presented and growing collection of content on past as well as contemporary Jewish life and culture in Poland.

Sources and links