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Jewish Agency In Poland

         One of the most frequently asked questions about Jewish life in Poland is, “Are there still Jews there?” and when I explain the situation of the community the next question is, “Why would any Jew want to live there?”

 

         Over the years I have asked the same questions, and the answer is not so simple. Yes it is the “land of the Holocaust” and “one big Jewish cemetery” and there is anti-Semitism, but it is their home.

 

         In truth many Jews are still searching for their Jewish identity within their Polish roots. During the Shoah they lost their Jewish identity and when the Communists took over they also lost their Polish identity. After overthrowing the Communists they regained strong patriotic feelings and the retort I’m often given is, “Why don’t you leave the United States?”

 

         Others have a strong Jewish connection but feel it would be wrong to abandon the Jewish heritage of Poland. “If all the Jews leave Poland,” one member of the community said, “who would care for the remnants of Jewish history?” I have been told that yes, the Shoah was horrific but the Jewish history of Poland was not just six years of the Holocaust but a thousand years of active Jewish history. It was not always good; there were restrictions on livelihood and residence at different periods as well as wars. But there were also times of great expansion of Jewish culture that was not possible in other countries. It has also been pointed out to me that Poland is the only country from which the Jews were never expelled as they were in all the European countries.

 

         That is not to say that no Jews want to leave. Jews have been emigrating from Poland almost as long as they have been living within its borders. Some of the largest waves of Jewish immigrants to America came from Poland and a significant number   became the founding fathers of Israel.

 



Corina Berger and Yaakov Finkelstien making a L’Chaim during the opening of the Jewish Agency’s new office in Warsaw.


 

         Since its inception, Zionism has been an integral part of Jewish life in Poland. Many of the major Zionist movements, both religious and secular, have their roots in Poland. Today the Jewish Agency for Israel is again active in Poland in promoting aliyah to Israel. During my recent visit to Poland, Corina Berger, the district coordinator for the Jewish Agency, opened a new office in the tower that stands on the site of the destroyed Great Synagogue of Warsaw.

 

         The Jewish community in Poland, in the past 18 years since the fall of Communism, has seen a rebirth of Jewish awareness and with it a renewal of its connection to Israel. The Jewish Agency, through the work of Corina Berger, coordinator for Eastern Europe based in Hungary, helps those who want to make aliyah. Education programs, literature and assistance is gaining visas are also available. 

 

    In a country that had been traumatized by the Shoah, post-Holocaust anti-Semitism, and then years of anti-Israel Communist rule, sometimes it is difficult to be outwardly Jewish, but recently more and more Jews are coming forward. The Jewish Agency is there to tell these people that there is a place to be free and proud and live as a Jew without fear.

 

         According to Ms. Berger about 60 Jews from Poland relocated to Israel last year. These included students that went to study Judaism, families, and even older people, who went to rejoin families from whom they had been separated since the Shoah.

 

         Tadeusz Wolenski, the local representative in Warsaw, works very closely with Yaakov Finkelstien of the Israeli Embassy in all Israel-related events such as Yom HaAtzmaut parties and Israel day fairs.

 

         They work with all sectors of Jewish life in Poland and participate in events at the Nozyk Synagogue. They work with the Chabad group and the Reform, reaching out to anyone who might be interested in aliyah.

 

         At the recent opening of the new Warsaw offices Ambassador David Peleg was present and mentioned how important the work of the Jewish Agency is to Israel. He said the country owes its very existence to the immigrants the organization brought to Israel since its inception. As a mezuzah was attached to the doorpost we all drank L’Chaim wishing much success to the Jewish agency in its new quarters. 

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More Articles from Shmuel Ben Eliezer
Arnold Fine 2008

I REMEMBER WHEN I first started working at the Jewish Press 18 years ago, Arnie who was in charge of the newsroom, took me under his wing…

The official beginning of World War II was September 1, 1939. On that day German soldiers invaded Gdansk after bombarding the city with a military warship. As part of the Polish Government’s official series of events marking seven decades since the start of World War II, Poland’s Jewish community and the Jerusalem-based “Shavei Israel” organization held a special ceremony yesterday in the Gdansk synagogue to commemorate the outbreak of the war, which paved the way for the Holocaust.

The official beginning of World War II was September 1, 1939. On that day German soldiers invaded Gdansk after bombarding the city with a military warship. As part of the Polish Government’s official series of events marking seven decades since the start of World War II, Poland’s Jewish community and the Jerusalem-based “Shavei Israel” organization held a special ceremony yesterday in the Gdansk synagogue to commemorate the outbreak of the war, which paved the way for the Holocaust.

September 1, 1939 is the date on which Germany invaded Poland, starting WWII. While it should be said that the start of the war was not the start of the Shoah, which actually began with the rise of Nazism in 1933, it was a major milestone in the annals of the Holocaust. Within the first few days of the war, Germany had conquered and/or bombed much of Poland, including the capital, Warsaw.

September 1, 1939 is the date on which Germany invaded Poland, starting WWII. While it should be said that the start of the war was not the start of the Shoah, which actually began with the rise of Nazism in 1933, it was a major milestone in the annals of the Holocaust. Within the first few days of the war, Germany had conquered and/or bombed much of Poland, including the capital, Warsaw.

In September 1939 the Germans started establishing ghettos in the occupied territory of Poland. Ghettos played an important role in the Jewish extermination policy. They were filled with Polish and Western European Jewish deportees. The ghettos differed in times of existence, size, internal organization, and living conditions. The Germans called them ” death boxes” (Todeskiste). The city of Lodz belonged to the Wartheland District and the Germans changed its name into Litzmannstadt.

In September 1939 the Germans started establishing ghettos in the occupied territory of Poland. Ghettos played an important role in the Jewish extermination policy. They were filled with Polish and Western European Jewish deportees. The ghettos differed in times of existence, size, internal organization, and living conditions. The Germans called them ” death boxes” (Todeskiste). The city of Lodz belonged to the Wartheland District and the Germans changed its name into Litzmannstadt.

Growing up in the U.S. during the second half of the 20th century, I, along with most people, know very little about the First World War. The little that I did know was about the trench warfare in France and Belgium. The Eastern Front was barely, if ever, mentioned and usually stated that it ended with the Russian Revolution and overthrowing the Czar.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/columns/jewish-agency-in-poland/2007/04/25/

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