As guest speaker at our synagogue last Shabbat, we had the rabbi of Krakow as representative of the chief rabbi of Poland. He is involved primarily in re-invigorating the Jewish presence there. Below is a picture of one of the final homes of near 3 million Holocaust Polish Jews.
By Jerome S. Kaufman
Here is a redacted version of his inaugural speech Sep 26, 2013 upon assuming the position:
“My first reaction when hearing about the position was a typical Jewish North American one – “Why would anyone want to go back to that graveyard?”
I had been unaware of the strides taken both by the Jewish community of survivors and by the Polish government over the past several decades. I learned of the remarkable resurgence of Judaism in Poland in general and Krakow in particular.
In Krakow the The Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland has maintained synagogues, services and Jewish connection to the past, while at the same time the new Jewish community center has re-invigorated Polish Jewish life, paving the way for a stronger Jewish future. Old and new are gathering daily and are re-introducing themselves to Judaism.
To be sure, the numbers are paltry compared to Polish Jewry’s glorious past – but considering the history of Poland’s Jews, any resurgence at all seems to me miraculous.
As guest speaker at our synagogue last Shabbat, we had the rabbi of Krakow. He was the representative of the chief rabbi of Poland involved primarily in re-invigorating the Jewish presence there.
This change is taking place despite the fact that while the Nazis (with enthusiastic Polish support) eliminated 90 percent of the Polish Jewish population of 3 million Jews that had been there for 800 years. The remaining Jews were then subjected to Communism that lasted for 40 years beyond the Holocaust and strove to erase whatever Jewish consciousness remained.
Some Jews survived by assimilating, hiding their Jewish identities and never speaking of their Jewish roots.
In the past 20 years, thousands of Poles have been confronted with new information about their roots. Rabbi Michael Schudrich, who has been serving the Jewish community in Poland since 1992 and has been its chief rabbi since 2004, described just a few of the stories of revelation in a TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) address. Jews came forward who had been given away to non-Jews and others came forward who had, for various reasons, not been aware of their Jewish identity.
A speech by then-president Aleksander Kwasniewski at Yad Vashem underscored the official position Poland has taken in recognizing its difficult past and attempting to build avenues for reconciliation and Jewish-Polish rapprochement:
“Efforts are currently being made in Poland to preserve the material heritage of the vibrant world of Polish Jews for future generations, and to commemorate their history for the benefit of all visitors to our country.
A Museum of the History of Polish Jews testifying to over 800 years of Jewish presence in Poland is being built with the support of public and private funding on the site of the former Warsaw Ghetto. We can rest assured that it will be a unique, world-class institution, a remarkable site of remembrance and meditation, like the memorial opened a year ago on the site of the former Nazi death camp at Belzec.”
Dialogue, better understanding and closer ties between Poles and Jews are bearing the desired fruit. Thanks to the multitude of projects involving Polish-Jewish history (such as the Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow or the activities of the Shalom Foundation), we in Poland are now happy to witness a growing interest in Jewish culture, especially among the younger generation.
The rabbi then presented the re-assurances of previous and current Polish presidents and other Polish representatives that great efforts were being made to eradicate anti-semitism and encourage new Jewish institutions. Some have even gone to Israel, visited Auschwitz-Birkenau and develop a meaningful relationship with Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Commentary: Jerome S. Kaufman
How grand! How very impressive and noble —even a museum built over the site of the infamous hell hole of the Warsaw Ghetto where Jews were penned up like pigs waiting their turn to be slaughtered.
Maybe the Rabbi is not aware of what the Polish government has done in real time outside the glorious rhetoric and apparent achievements of both the Jewish community and the Polish government? What has followed since the rabbi’s initial optimism of just 6 years ago and the work he and his fellow rabbis have done trying to increase the Jewish presence and observance.
On February 2, 2018 Poland’s Senate approved a bill that makes it illegal to accuse the nation of complicity in crimes committed by Nazi Germany, including the Holocaust.
The bill was signed by Polish President Andrzej Duda, who had previously expressed his support. Violations were to be punished by a fine or a jail sentence of up to three years.
Five months later due to much opposition, the right-wing prime minister changed the law from a criminal offense to a civil offense.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the bill “baseless,” saying: “One cannot change history and the Holocaust cannot be denied.”
At least three million Polish Jews and 1.9 million non-Jewish citizens were killed during the Holocaust, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Apologists said, “The government is trying to present itself as a defender of Polish dignity,” “It’s part of the government’s agenda to appeal to people, to present itself as a defender of the Polish nation.”
jsk Terrific! So where does that leave Polish Jews who are living examples refuting the veracity of the new declaration and insulting “Polish dignity? It leaves them once more as a despised minority and a source of Polish embarrassment.
Also, maybe the rabbi did not see the Nov. 22, 2019 statistics?
In Poland, anti-Semitic attitudes were present in 48% of the population, up from 37% in 2015, when the last survey was conducted.
IN EUROPE The Mindless Scourge of Anti-Semitism (Jew-Hatred) Continues Unabated
Wall Street Journal (Nov. 22, 2019)
24.6% of Europeans holds strongly anti-Semitic views, according to a poll by a Jewish anti-hate organization.
Among European Muslims in Western Europe, the incidence of such views was, on average, higher than the general population, according to the Anti-Defamation League’s study.
jsk: Then why encourage further Jewish existence in Europe at all? Should we not be extending our every effort to encourage Jews to prefer Israel? Should it be that hard?
Most authorities would say that Jews prefer to live in Poland and Germany rather than Israel because of economics. They are also aware of the daily terrorist incidences against Jews in Israel itself and the now frequent missile attacks that are becoming more and more accurate.
If we want to have any chance of changing this situation, it is up to Israel. They must clean up their act. They must use the muscle that Hashem has given to them and punish their enemies severely so as to eliminate the terror and the missiles.
Israel must also clear up all its domestic political problems. They must make housing affordable with more units and open the territories to Jewish development. They must make it possible to make a decent wage.
When all this is addressed and corrected, European Jews will flock to Israel rather than remain in countries where mindless hatred increases exponentially despite the Jews’ usual effort to be compliant patriotic citizens.
So, What else is new? How’s the family?
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