30 October 2007

Poland: Finding the lost

The "hidden Jews" of Poland connect with their lost culture over three days in Krakow, 30 miles from Auschwitz.

The Israeli organization Shavei Israel, headed by Michael Freund, organized the event; it has worked for almost 10 years to bring back into the Jewish fold, what it terms "lost" or "hidden" Jews around the world.

Says Freund, "It's a connection that has survived persecution and repression, and now that the world is opening up so quickly, it's a connection that in many instances will become endangered."

Jacek Kujawa only learned he was Jewish two years ago. He had known about the German great-grandfather who served in Hitler's army, but his mother's revelation that the Wehrmacht soldier's wife was a Polish Jew set him off on a search for her lost world.

This weekend, with a Star of David around his neck and a yarmulke on his shaved head, Kujawa, 23, gathered with dozens of other Poles who, like him, have learned only recently of their Jewish roots and want to reconnect with a culture that nearly vanished in the Holocaust.

The event was held in the historic Jewish district, Kazimierz, began with lighting of Shabbat candles and on Sunday, it featured the launch of a new Polish-Yiddish dictionary.

Pre-Holocaust, nearly 3.5 million Jews called Poland home. Between ghettos and concentration camps, they were nearly wiped out. Surviving Jews suffered under repression and expulsion. Many fled, those who stayed hid their roots by marrying out and baptizing their children.

Since 1989, and the fall of communistm, parents and grandparents who remember are telling the family secrets. Each family story is unique and focuses on being Jewish in a not-so-friendly world.

Some of the hidden are halachically Jewish, with descent from a maternal grandmother or great-grandmother. Some have Jewish roots on the paternal line and convert. Some join youth groups and join in cultural events but don't go the religious route.

This AP article appeared in the International Herald Tribune; click here to read the entire story. And click here for more information on Shavei Israel.

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