It is well known that all roads lead to Rome. So lately I have been much more interested in how many places you can get to from Rome. Can you determine, using classic triangulation, in what small Polish town this photo was taken, between 1935 and 1938, by Roman Vishniac? Caution: Poland has since shifted a few hundred kilometers to the west, and the official names of many places changed.
Yes, you have guessed well. The signpost stood in today’s Belorussian town of Слоним, at a time when, between the two world wars, it belonged to Poland as Słonim. Vishniac published the photo with the title “From Słonim the roads lead to everywhere in the world”. The version found in the Vishniac Archive shows that the signpost stood behind the great synagogue, built in 1642, lending a special connotation to the title. Słonim, established at the confluence of the navigable Shchara and Issa rivers, has been an important trading town since the Middle Ages, with a Jewish quarter known since 1388, and with a pre-war Jewish population of nearly 20 thousand. Its beautiful great synagogue was even spared the devastation of the war. Hence comes the Słonim Hasidic Dynasty in Israel, and the founder of the British Marks & Spencer warehouse chain. Vishniac visited the town between 1935 and 1938, during his photographic survey of the Eastern European Jewish settlements. Let us include here the other photos he took in Słonim, too, as well as two closing pictures on the weekly market and the firemen of Słonim. The latter is a part of a postcard series of ethnographic interest, which was published on the town, and primarily on its exotic-looking Jews in 1917, during the German military occupation. The other pieces of the series can be seen on Pinterest’s Słonim page and in Eliat Gordin Levitan’s collection of old Słonim photos, and a superb stand-alone piece here.