Nativity scenes and nativity plays in Kraków

In 2022, the 80th edition of the “Krakow Nativity Scene” Jubilee Competition took place. Upon discovering an antisemitic Jewish stereotype in a nativity play performed at the Krakow museum, FestivALT launched an awareness and intervention initiative to combat antisemitism.

A recording of the Malik family’s nativity play surfaced on the official YouTube channel of the Museum of Krakow, sparking controversy. This controversy stemmed from fragments of the play that exemplified traditional antisemitic tropes based on religious prejudices. The production featured negative expressions, including the derogatory diminutive “Żydek” (little Jew), and scenes depicting collective violence against the minority, which could evoke associations with pogroms. Additionally, visitors reported that this film was shown as part of the anniversary exhibition.


The long-standing Christian and folk practice of designing nativity and Christmas scenes called for an immediate critical revision. This urgency was heightened, considering the primary target audience was children, who are particularly susceptible to negative influences and cultural and social patterns.


Collaborating with other institutions, organizations, and associations, we have spoken out against hate speech and violence motivated by prejudice presented as an integral part of Krakow’s centuries-old heritage. Notable figures and organizations include Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich, Rabbi Eliezer Gurary, American Jewish Committee Central Europe, the Urban Memory Foundation, Jewish Religious Community in Łódź, JCC Warszawa, HaKoach Association, Jewish Gymnastics and Sports Club Makabi Warszawa, Zbliżenia Culture Foundation, Zapomniane Foundation, JCC Kraków, Jewish Association “Czulent”, Żyd Niemalowany Foundation and Wieczny Tułacz Museum.

open letter

In a joint appeal to the Mayor of Krakow, we strongly oppose stereotypical, antisemitic, and violent depictions of Jews in Krakow nativity scenes and nativity plays. Our stance arises from our concern for a responsible approach to culture and cultural heritage. The goal of our initiative is to underscore the importance of removing content from the public space that may contribute to the perpetuation of prejudice and the promotion of unacceptable cultural patterns.

We have also sought substantial comments from experts on the topic: Dr. Mikołaj Winiewski (Centre for Research on Prejudice, University of Warsaw) and Prof. Erica Lehrer (Concordia University, Montreal, Canada), an anthropologist and the author of the book “Lucky Jews: Poland’s Jewish Figurines” (2014).

The media have reported extensively on the case:

  1. Polish museum scraps Christian children’s show featuring threats to beat Jews by Canaan Lidor for Times of Israel, April 19, 2023;
  2. Kukiełka Żyda w krakowskich jasełkach. 12 organizacji żydowskich napisało apel do prezydenta Jacka Majchrowskiego [“A Jewish puppet in a Krakow nativity play. 12 Jewish organisations wrote an appeal to President Jacek Majchrowski”] by Anna Kolet-Iciek for Gazeta Wyborcza, April 21, 2023;
  3. Protest organizacji żydowskich w sprawie krakowskich jasełek. “Antysemicki charakter” [“Protest by Jewish organisations against the nativity play in Krakow. Antisemitic character”] on Life in Kraków, April 21, 2023;
  4. Organizacje żydowskie apelują do miasta Krakowa. Dokument podpisało 12 organizacji i naczelny rabin [“Jewish organisations appeal to the city of Krakow. The document was signed by 12 organisations and the Chief Rabbi”] on, April 21, 2023;
  5. Protest organizacji żydowskich w sprawie krakowskich jasełek. „Postać antysemicka” [“Protest by Jewish organisations against the nativity play in Krakow. Antisemitic figure“] by Odeta Żabińska for Aktualności News, April 21, 2023;
  6. Kukiełka Żyda w krakowskich jasełkach. Organizacje żydowskie apelują do władz miasta [“A Jewish puppet in a Krakow nativity play. Jewish organisations appeal to the city council”] on Onet Kultura, April 23, 2023;
  7. Kraków. Zamieszanie wokół jasełkowego przedstawienia. Apel organizacji żydowskich. “Krzywdzące stereotypy” [“Krakow. Confusion about the nativity play. Appeal by Jewish organisations. Harmful stereotypes“] by Anna Piątkowska for Dziennik Polski , April 26, 2023;
  8. Najpierw Żyd z monetą, a teraz jasełka. Apel organizacji żydowskich [“First a Jew with a coin, and now a nativity play. Appeal from Jewish organisations”] by Odeta Żabińska for Aktualności News, April 26, 2023.

On March 31, 2022, the Krakow Museum, an institution known for promoting the controversial staging of the Nativity Play…, organized a meeting to discuss the depiction of Jewish figures in Krakow’s nativity plays and scenes. Participants included representatives from Jewish organizations, universities, museums, and the nativity scene community, who reached an agreement on fundamental issues during the discussion. The nativity play script was acknowledged as a historical document necessitating critical analysis and contextualization. Antisemitic content in video material was subsequently removed from the institution’s online profile and educational programs dedicated to Christmas celebrations for young children.

Additionally, Krakow City Hall committed to taking concrete action by developing and implementing equality standards for event organization. Employees of cultural institutions, organizations, and universities would undergo special training covering human rights, sensitivity to multicultural issues, and the analysis of existing and planned exhibitions/collections for accessibility and appropriate representation of marginalized groups. The city aims to finalize these recommendations by the end of 2023, with Robert Piaskowski, the Mayor’s Plenipotentiary for Culture, and Nina Gabryś, the Mayor’s Plenipotentiary for Gender Equality Policy, responsible for drafting them.

In 2023, the Krakow Museum did not perform the Malik Family Nativity Play for the first time in at least 10 years.

On January 5, 2023, a letter was sent to the city requesting the above-mentioned recommendations, expressing willingness to support the city in their implementation.