‘Hidden’ Polish Jews Embrace Their Heritage in Israel

August 15, 2013  

In order to save their children from the clutches of the Nazis and their Polish accomplices, many Jews in Poland handed over their young children to sympathetic Polish families during the Holocaust era. Many of those children survived physically, but not as Jews.

As they grew up, many of these children aised their own children as Poles, and nominally if not actively Catholic. Nevertheless, many of them remained aware of their Jewish heritage, and in recent years their descendants – now themselves adults, many of them in their 20s and 30s – have come to find out about their Jewish heritage, and are interested in hearing more.

In order to help them, the Shavei Israel organization has been holding seminars for Polish youth from Jewish backgrounds to introduce them to Judaism and Israel. This week, a group of 16 young people, ages 18-35, arrived in Israel for one such seminar.

The seminars are designed to increase Jewish knowledge among the participants, with the intention of encouraging them to strengthen their bond with the Jewish community in Poland. The seminar includes tours, meetings with officials, and classes on topics like Sabbath observance, the High Holidays, kashrut, Torah study, and more.

Officially, there are some 4,000 Jews in Poland, but experts believe that there are tens of thousands of others who are still hiding their true identities. Over the years, many became adept at this, in fear of anti-Semitism and to protect themselves from the Communist authorities who ran Poland for decades after World War II. With democracy taking root in Poland in recent years, many now feel comfortable proclaiming their Jewish identities, and Shavei Israel has taken it upon itself to help them learn about their Jewish identities and reconnect with the Jewish people.

“There is a great thirst among young people in Poland with Jewish roots to learn about their culture, traditions, and religion,” said Michael Freund, director of Shavei Israel. “This could not have taken place 25 or 30 years ago, but since the fall of Communism, more and more of these lost Jews are seeking to deepen their ties to the Jewish people and the Jewish state, and it is our responsibility to help them.

“These youths represent the future of Polish Jewry, which despite years of isolation, suffering, and persecution, is beginning to grow anew,” Freund added.

“This is perhaps the greatest revenge of the Jewish people on the Nazis for what they did to Polish Jewry 70 years ago.”

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