Reigniting the Flame
Reigniting the flame of Judaism… in Auschwitz
Participants in a Hidden Jews seminar last weekend in Oswiecim, Poland only discovered their Jewishness recently, but it won’t be easily extinguished. Because they are reigniting the flame of Judaism.
OSWIECIM – Until four years ago, 20-year-old Krzysztof had no idea he was Jewish. He grew up Catholic, went to church every Sunday and celebrated all the Christian holy days. Then, one Christmas eve, that all changed.
“It was just moments before we started Christmas dinner. My grandmother had laid out the plates with the traditional meal and then turned to us and said, ‘You are all Jews.’
“It was a huge shock,” he recalls.
Krzysztof, an Opole native, is just one of the dozens of Polish “hidden Jews” who attended a Shavei Israel seminar in Oswiecim last weekend. Of all ages and hailing from all over Poland, the participants held a Shabbat together in the town more commonly called Auschwitz, where they prayed and studied Torah and Judaism with Rabbi Boaz Pash, the former rabbi of Krakow. The weekend finished with a guided tour of the former death camp.
Krzysztof’s story, remarkably, was not unique among the attendees of the seminar. A large number of the participants were Jews and most had discovered their Jewishness only recently, and some at an advanced age.
“Over the years my grandmother was probably afraid to tell us we were Jews. The strangest thing is she was not afraid of the Nazis, but was afraid of the Communists and the Polish government before the fall of Communism. The atmosphere in Poland at that time made her fearful, and she chose not to tell us we were Jews,” says Krzysztof.
When asked if his parents knew they were Jewish, or if their parents had also hidden the fact from them, he says, “My mother has always known she was a Jew. My father is Catholic with no Jewish roots. Now my sister and I also know that we are Jews.”
“I’m still a Catholic. I was baptized and I’m still not entirely sure I want to change my religion. I came to the conference because, deep inside, I feel a strong connection to Judaism and I wanted to meet other Jews and to study Jewish culture, language, tradition and history.
“The most important thing for me was to celebrate Shabbat together. We prayed in the synagogue, we learned Torah and other activities related to Shabbat. It was really great.”
“I may not celebrate all Jewish holidays yet, but I light Hanukkah candles. I feel half Catholic and half Jewish,” he says with a smile.
Many of Poland’s hidden Jews prefer not to reveal their religious status after they first discover their Jewishness. Krzysztof did not have this problem.
“I told all my friends that I am a Jew. The teachers at my school also knew it, because I invited one of Poland’s rabbis to lecture my class about Judaism. The students’ reactions were very positive: They found it new and very interesting.
“Sometimes I hear people speaking negatively about Israel, but it’s usually because of the security situation and the conflict with the Palestinians – it’s not anti-Semitism or hatred of Jews.”
Last summer, Krzysztof visited Israel for the first time, and fell in love with the place. “The weather in Israel is just great for me because I do not like winter. The food is excellent too, especially the oranges. They were so delicious, not like the ones we get in Poland. The people are wonderful too, not only in appearance, but especially in the way they behave and think.” Read the complete article at Times Of Israel