In the Virtual Shtetl, there is no Tevye the Milkman. Gimpel the Fool doesn’t live there, either. And you won’t find Marc Chagall’s floating goats and violins.
There is no nostalgia to speak of — just facts. Google maps, detailed photos of dilapidated tombstones poking through the earth of forgotten cemeteries, scanned birth certificates, sepia-toned family photos of long ago weddings and sports matches.
An online project of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews — whose physical site will open in Warsaw in 2012 on ground where the ghetto once stood — Virtual Shtetl is an effort to collect this documentation and contribute to what the $150 million Polish initiative calls a “museum without barriers.” Using the participatory power of Web 2.0 technology, the descendants of Polish Jews, together with today’s Poles, will work together on excavating the past of hundreds of communities where a rich Jewish life once existed.