News / Europe

70 Years after Holocaust, Poles Work to Revive Krakow Judaism

Seventy Years after Holocaust, Poles Work to Revive Judaismi
X
May 09, 2014 9:59 PM
More than three million Jews lived in Poland before World War II. Now, they number in the thousands. Fairly or not, Poland is often accused of having played a role in the Holocaust. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports that non-Jewish Poles are working to bring Judaism back to Krakow, a city near the site of an infamous Nazi death camp.
About an hour’s drive from the heart of darkness that was the Auschwitz death camp, there is a bright sunlit room in Krakow full of young Poles learning Hebrew.

“Metzuyan!” (Excellent!) the teacher exclaims in Hebrew, encouraging her students, who like her, are not Jewish. Together they negotiate the foreign tongue with zest, and give it a Polish twist.

“Teachers love to drink vodka with lemon,” they say in Hebrew in unison, repeating after the teacher.

More than three million Jews lived in Poland before World War II. Now, they number in the thousands. Fairly or not, Poland is often accused of having played a role in the Holocaust; but, non-Jewish Poles are working to bring Judaism back to Krakow, hoping to chip away at the perception of their country as a bulwark of anti-Semitism.  And the Jewish community is beginning to thrive.  

Over at the Ram'a synagogue, restoration work is under way to uncover what are believed to be ancient drawings on the walls of the chapel. The Ram'a is one of seven synagogues still standing in the Kazimierz district, home to one of the best preserved Jewish quarters in Europe.

European tourists in golf carts crisscross this once-thriving center of Polish Jewry, and American Jewish youth groups come to hear stories of their folklore in the place where it happened.

A few blocks away, a community-wide Sabbath meal is being prepared at the Krakow Jewish Community Center.

Built with a donation from Britain’s Prince Charles, the center’s happy pastel-colored interior is a deliberate contrast to the black-and-white images of the Holocaust. And the rooms are alive with activities, led by a small army of Gentile volunteers.

After a junior high school trip to Auschwitz several years ago, Agnieszka Gis, who grew up in this neighborhood, vowed to help revive Jewish life here.

“I am Polish, and I share a lot of history with the Jews, with the Polish Jews, who are here now, and I believe that their future is something we need to build together,” she says.

She quotes some of her Jewish friends who were told by their grandparents not to come to Poland, or “‘you can come to Poland to visit camps, but you should leave immediately because it’s not a good country,’ and actually when they came here and met Poles, they fell in love with Poland.”

You do hear anti-Semitic slurs, says Zofia Radzikowska, a Holocaust survivor who has lived her whole life in Poland; but, she says the words don’t lead to actions.

“We have nothing,” she says. “We have no attacks on the street. We have no attacks on synagogues. In many European countries these things happen. Not in Poland.”

At night, Klezmer music reverberates from the cafes in the Kazimierz that serve traditional Yiddish food.

With such an interest in Judaism, there’s no reason for Jews to not come back, says the community center’s New York-born director, Jonathan Ornstein.

“I’m not trying to rebuild the Jewish community here to plant a flag,” he says, sitting for an interview on a bright orange sofa. “I don’t think we’re trying to do this to thumb our noses at the Nazis and say, ' Look, we can live here'.  I think that Jews should live here today in Poland because Jewish life is good in Poland.”

Still, it’s hard to imagine a Jew walking the cobblestone streets of Krakow, past the empty synagogues, and not feeling a deep sense of loss.

Jerome Socolovsky

Jerome Socolovsky is the award-winning religion correspondent for the Voice of America, based in Washington. He reports on the rapidly changing faith landscape of the United States, including interfaith issues, secularization and non-affiliation trends and the growth of immigrant congregations.

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Srebrenica Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs countermeasure at UN More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Jack Cooper from: sherwood park Alberta
May 10, 2014 9:25 PM
About three years ago my son took me to Poland.that was my ancestors home.my family name was worshofski.it my studies of holocaust to life.

by: ej_ma from: Poland
May 10, 2014 9:21 PM
@Michael, you're critique is wrong. Agnieszka did actually clearly state in her sentence, "...with Polish Jews", which is accurate and there is nothing wrong with her comment.

You are also being a hypocrite because the author of the article himself distinguishes between Jewish Poles and Non-Jewish Poles in the following manner:

"More than three million Jews lived in Poland before World War II...She quotes some of her Jewish friends...Still, it’s hard to imagine a Jew walking the cobblestone streets of Krakow".

In all cases above, the author of the article fails to use "Polish Jews or Jewish Poles". Why haven't you criticized him?

@Guest, your comment "Agnieszka is probably an anti semite, just like all the other Poles" is just absurd, ugly, and inaccurate.

I know many American, French, and Polish Jews who identify themselves as nothing but "Jews". Isn't this also an insult to the USA, France, and Poland?

And lastly, you both use the term 'anti-Semite' too loosely and carelessly.

I'm an American Jew living in Poland by the way.

by: michael Zamczyk from: Sonoma, CA
May 10, 2014 12:25 PM
Interesting. The comment by Agnieszka Gris says it all "“I am Polish, and I share a lot of history with the Jews“. I am as Polish as she is, but my religion is Jewish. I guess my Catholic Poles still cannot come to terms with that.
In Response

by: Anonymous
May 11, 2014 10:48 AM
Obviously what she means is "ethnically Polish". There is a difference between nationality and ethnic origin.

@guest: the girl works at a Jewish Community Centre. Calling her an anti-Seminte is idiotic.
In Response

by: Guest
May 10, 2014 3:19 PM
Yes, Michael, Agnieszka is probably an anti semite, just like all the other Poles. But according to this logic you should be an anti semite, too...

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prisoni
X
Heather Murdock
July 01, 2015 8:59 PM
As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs