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

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

Audio 'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book 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.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs