Home » elinews » Virtual Shtetl – The Museum of the History of Polish Jews

Virtual Shtetl – The Museum of the History of Polish Jews


By Eli Rabinowitz

My name is Eli Rabinowitz. I live in Perth, Australia.  My three siblings live in New York, Israel and South Africa. I am married to Jill Reitstein (originally Rotzstejn, from Nasielsk). Our sons are Dean, married to Tami Sokol (grandparents from Bialystok), living in Sydney, and Neil, also married, living in New York. We have, therefore, strong ties to Poland.

My story is one of Jewish migration and re-migration and a journey to reconnect with my roots in Poland.

I was born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1952. My father was the first of his siblings to be born in South Africa. His brothers and mother were born in Palestine. His father was from Orla, Poland (or Russia as it was known then), his maternal grandfather from Lithuania. My mother was born in Latvia.

My journey to Poland began with a simple short message on JewishGen and a unexpected response to it by a non-Jewish Polish researcher, Wojciech Konunczuk.

My family connections with Poland stretch back to the 1500s to my 12thgrandfather, Shaul Wahl Katzenellenbogen,  “The King of Poland for a Day”.

From Wikipedia:

Saul Wahl (c. 1542—1622[1]) was a wealthy and politically influential Polish Jew.[2]According to legend, he was king of Poland for a single day August 18, 1587. Wahl had numerous children, including the renowned Polish rabbi, Meir Wahl.

King of Poland for a day

The fact that Saul was king of Poland is not well-supported by historical data, but it gained a firm place in the folk beliefs of the Jewish people.

And from Jewish Encyclopedia:

The version set forth in the Jewish Encyclopedia is as follows:

At a point in his life, Lithuanian Noble Mikołaj Krzysztof “the Orphan” Radziwiłł (1549–1616) wanted to repent for the numerous sins he committed when he was younger. He commenced a pilgrimage to Rome in order to consult the pope as to the best means for the propitiation of his misdeeds. The pope advised him to dismiss all his servants and to live for a few years as a wandering beggar. When the prescribed period ended, Radziwill was penniless in the city of Padua, Italy. He pleaded for help, but his claims of being a noble fell on deaf ears. Radziwiłł decided to appeal to Samuel Judah Katzenellenbogen, the rabbi of Padua. Katzenellenbogen treated him nicely and provided him with means to return to Lithuania. To repay the favor, Katzenellenbogen requested that Radziwiłł find his son Saul, who years before had left to study in ayeshiva in Poland. When he visited Poland, he checked yeshivas until he found Saul in Brest-Litovsk (now Brest, Belarus). Upon meeting and getting to know Saul, Radziwiłł was very impressed with his intellect and offered to provide Saul for boarding in his own castle where Saul can pursue his studies. Radziwill’s court personnel were similarly impressed with Saul, and his reputation spread throughout Poland. Stephen Báthory, who was King of Poland died in 1586, and the Poles were split between being ruled by the Zamoyski familyand the Zborowskis. Under Polish law at that time, if electors could not agree upon a king, an outsider should be appointed “rex pro tempore” (temporary king). Radziwill proposed that Saul Wahl be appointed the temporary king and Wahl was elected to this high office to shout of “Long live King Saul!” The length of his reign range from one night to a few days. During the short reign, Wahl passed numerous laws, including laws that eased the conditions for Polish Jews. The name “Wahl” was given him from the German word Wahl (meaning “election”).

For more details:



However, it was my grandfather, Nachum Mendel Rabinowitz, who was born in Orla, Grodno Gubernia near Bialystok on 2 Elul 5647 (22 August 1887), who brought me on this journey back to Poland.

In November 2011, I received an email from Wojciech Konończuk, who wrote me the following:

Dear Eli Rabinowitz,

I found a short piece of information about “Rabinowitz family originally Skarasjewski from Orla near Bialystok” on this website


I research the history of Jews in Orla, preparing a book on this subject, and I’m very interested in any testimonies, photos or other materials concerning this issue. Maybe you will be able to provide me some new information about Jewish people from Orla?


The Administrator has made all possible efforts to present the content accuratly and up-to-date in a way that does not infringe upon the rights of third parties, including copyrights, but cannot guarantee it. Therefore erroneous information on the website may not be the basis for claims. If you have any questions, please contact us at the following e-mail address: sztetl@jewishmuseum.org.pl



3 thoughts on “Virtual Shtetl – The Museum of the History of Polish Jews

  1. Thanks for the link to the Virtual Shtetl.  That allowed me to look up Knyszyn, which is about 30 km NW of Bialystok, and where my father’s father was born.   Shabbat Shalom Eric Mack, Jerusalem

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