Mariusz Robert Aoflko, a 64-year old Jewish attorney from Krakow who grew up thinking he was a Polish Catholic, celebrated his Bar Mitzvah on Wednesday, May 30, at the Kotel, with friends and other “hidden Jews” from Poland.
Mariusz spent his entire life as a Catholic. However, 13 years ago, right before his mother passed away, she told him something that turned his whole world upside down: he is a Jew, and a Kohen.
This week, Mariusz (who now goes by the name of Moshe) is visiting Israel for the first time and this morning celebrated his Bar Mitzvah at the Kotel, 13 years after the secret, which he calls “his rebirth,” was revealed.
It turns out that both of Mariusz’s parents were born to Jewish families who perished in Auschwitz. After the war, the fear of being Jewish in Poland led his parents to hide their religion and to live as Polish Catholics.
After learning his true identity, Mariusz was in complete shock, but slowly, over the years, he decided he wanted to live a Jewish life. He contacted Shavei Israel’s emissary in Krakow, Rabbi Boaz Pash, and became involved with the Jewish community in Krakow.
Last month, he met Michael Freund, founder and chairman of Shavei Israel, at the entrance of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp, and told him his story. “I was deeply moved,” Freund said, adding, “I told him that since 13 years have passed since he found out he was a Jew, it is an appropriate time for him to have a Bar Mitzvah.” Freund then offered to arrange the event at the Kotel, all paid for by the organization.
“By embarking on this journey into my heritage, step by step, it all starts to become clear to me,” said Mariusz. “I am not doing this to prove anything to anyone. All I ask is to embrace the truth about my family and regain the lost identity that was hidden from me for decades.”
Today, there are approximately 4,000 Jews living in Poland, but experts suggest there may be tens of thousands of other Jews who to this day are either hiding their identities or simply unaware of their family heritage. In recent years, a growing number of such people, popularly known as the “Hidden Jews of Poland,” have begun to return to Judaism and to the Jewish people.
Shavei Israel is a non-profit organization founded by Michael Freund, who immigrated to Israel from the United States, with the aim of strengthening the ties between the Jewish people, the State of Israel and the descendants of Jews around the world. The organization is currently active in nine countries and provides assistance to a variety of different communities such as the Bnei Menashe of India, the Bnei Anousim in Spain, Portugal and South America, the Subbotnik Jews of Russia, and the Jewish community of Kaifeng in China.
Shavei Israel currently has two full-time emissaries in Poland, located in Krakow and Katowice.