The Nazis murdered 90 percent of Poland’s Jews in the death camps. Seventy-five years after the end of World War Two, life is returning to the Jewish community in Poland.
Jewish cultural festivals, kosher restaurants, klezmer bands and Jewish schools have returned to the Poland of today – the country that was once the location of the Nazi German Auschwitz extermination camp. The growth of the new, vital Jewish community is in part thank to the Chief Rabbi of Poland, Michael Schudrich. Visits to Auschwitz and other camp locations in Poland are for him simply part and parcel of the country’s history. Schudrich grew up on New York’s Upper West Side. As a student, he traveled to what was then Communist Poland for the first time. His grandparents had emigrated to the US from Eastern Europe. At the end of the 1970s and later in the 1980s, many Jews looked for their families‘ roots in Poland. There were only a few left – among them were the Polish Jews who were closely linked to the Solidarity movement. They founded the „Flying Jewish University“ at this time. A loose network of Jewish intellectuals even back then already believed that Jewish religious life would again find a place in Poland. The idea must have germinated in Schudrich’s mind quickly. He decided to dedicate his life to rebuilding Jewish religious life in Poland. The concept was one he shared with billionaire Ronald S. Lauder, a key patron of Jewish religious projects around the globe who today is president of the World Jewish Congress.
Thirty years ago, after the fall of the Iron Curtain and the collapse of Communism, Michael Schudrich made his way to Warsaw. Here the son of a New York rabbi with a congregation in the Bronx became a chief rabbi. In the 1990s, he encouraged many more Poles to rediscover their Jewish roots. Several hundred learned the basics of Jewish religious life in the then newly established Jewish school in Warsaw, leading them to become conscious of their long-suppressed Jewish identity. Now the Jewish communities in Poland have as many as 12,000 members who live according to the rules set out in the Torah.
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