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January 11, 1963 - Image 2

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1963-01-11

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CD

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Purely Commentary

Among. a group of approximately seventy new
settlers in Israel from a dozen countries, one
evening recently, as they arrived by plane from
Marseilles, were six from Poland. Two of them were
young girls—one, 15 years old, arrived with her
parents; the other, 23, a nurse, left her parents
who had visas to go to the United States and
pursued her preference to settle in Israel. The two
girls spoke Yiddish well, but they did not know a
word of Hebrew. Both had attended folk schools
in the small communities of their origin, some
distance away.from Warsaw and Krakow.
The background of these two young people was
proof of our contention that there must be no
generalizing about Polish Jewry and its fate; that
while conditions in Warsaw and Krakow, which are
primarily the subjects of this analysis, are dismal,
they do not mirror the situation in all of Poland
where there are a number of Yiddish folk schools
and where there undoubtedly are some Jews who
will choose to go to Israel. But in the main, Polish
Jewry appears to have ceased to be a source of
human supply for the Jewish State. The reasons
soon become obvious to observers who know the
history of Polish Jewry and who are acquainted
with the developments of the past two decades.
They became apparent to this observer during his
visit in Poland with the group of 35 from the
United States who participated in a UJA Study
Mission.

*

*

*

There were three and a half million Jews in
Poland at the outbreak of the Second World War.
When the Nazis began to deport hundreds of thou-
sands of Jews into the concentration and extermi-
nation camps that were set up in Poland, the num-
ber of Jews herded for destruction, in Poland,
exceeded five and a half million,. and most of them
were deStroyed: Of the 350,000 who remained alive
in Poland and an additional 200,000 Polish JeWs
who found-Irefuge. in Russia and . returned:to Their
former homes, half a million emigrated, most of
them to Israel. . _ _ _ _ • • -
Official figures. on the number of remaining. Jews
in Poland varies. It is generally given as 25,000;
some have quoted the number of 30,000, and a
member •of the -editorial board of the Polish Yiddish
newspaper VolkSztymme, while in London a few
weeks ago, gave' . the number of 35,000. The latter
is n4tp,an. "accepted figure, big the cOmparatiVely
sinalt:variatiOn, in view of &;itiWretunarit...reiiitiiiiiiig-
, in 'Poland from .lhe vast pre-war poptilation, hardly.
matters.
41.1t,4, is,lvlsw-assame &that 4.1atze at.e.tens.-•afi-thou
sands Of Jews who are hiding their Jewish origin,
that they have intermarried and chose to live a
life apart from their former kinsmen. Those' who
refer to thein as "marranos" are defiling the Span-
ish experience in which a "marano" was a secret
Jew who lived the life of a Cliistian'in public while
craving, under favorable conditions : to return to
the Jewish fold. This is not so in relation, to the
Polish Jews who have abandoned their"association
with their people. These have chosen tO-lea :ve the
fold and are lost to us, and it is sheer folly to
speak of them as secret members of our people: .
* *
If one were to judge Polish Jewry by what he
sees in Warsaw and KrakoW, he would have to write
off an entire population as lost to us. I am inclined
to believe that this is not so; that there are some—
they may not number more han 5 to 10 per cent.
of all of Polish Jewry, but they exist—who 'are
studying what they can: Yiddish that is permitted
to them and that is encouraged by their communi-
ties' leaders, perhaps even a smattering of history,
and in rare cases ceremonials and religious tracts.
But there is little of religion- among them, there
are very few religious schools and these are sparsely
attended, and from the religious point of view. their
interests are either nil or limited. But from the small
communities there may even emanate some emi- .
grants to Israel, and, contrary to the skepticism
towards Israel that exists in Warsaw, the Jewish
State's status may even be discussed and serioUsly
considered there in as friendly a fashion as it is
being viewed by the non-Jewish public officials.
Yet, there is not a single Yeshivah left in Poland--
and there are no rabbis there; and without a
theological seminary there won't be any theologians
—unless there are some future unforseen infiltra
tions of Jews from other lands into Poland.
Without generalizing, therefore, this writer
chooses to review experiences in Warsaw "and
Krakow. . .
There are 12,000 Jews in Warsaw, Their young
are unseen. Intermarriage is -common. The religiouS
element is scarce and seems to be begging for
consideration from the predominant Social and
Cultural Association of Polish Jews. What a tragic
commentary on the rich heritage of Polish Jewry's
cultural background during- the thousand-year his-
tory of the Jews in that country that only 16 chil-
dren attend the Jewish religious school in Warsaw!
*
*
.
.
Nevertheless, Polish Jewry_is not persecuted, in.
the sense of its being restricted. in its_ spiritual-
cultural affairs. Tourists planning visits . in Soviet
Russia had been told to take with them taleisim,'
tephillin, prayerbooks and lukhot. They had been
admonished, at least until the recent condemnation
of such a practice by none other than the Chief
Rabbi of Moscow, Rabbi Yehudah Levin, especially
to bring with them lukhot — Jewish calendars so

The Tragedy of Poland's
Vanishing Jewry

that the Jews in Russia should know the dates of
Jewish holidays. This is not the case in Poland. The
religious Jewish community in Warsaw has published
its own luakh and from it we learn of the existence of
22 Jewish communities in Poland, listed in the current
luakh as follows: Bialystok, Przemysl, Lublin, Nowy-
Sonch, Krakow, Lddz, Chenstochow, Sosnovic,
Wloczlawek, Katowitz, Bielsko-Biala, Bytom, Gliwice,
Wroclaw, Bielowe (Bielsko Biala), Zgorzelec, Swid-
nica, Legnica, Walbrzych, Warsaw, Yelena-Nura,
Szczecin.
While there are only 16 pupils in Warsaw's
Jewish religious school, the numbers of students
in the schools in the other communities are not too
readily available, but it is known that the folk
schools where Yiddish is taught have at least a
thousand combined Jewish students. Most of the
children, however, are sent to the public schools,
and that obviates their Jewish studies.
In Krakow there are now 2,000 Jews and together
with Warsaw the two communities form nearly half
of the entire Jewish population of Poland. Krakow's
status is especially tragic, 1,300 of the 2,000 being
65 and older. The reduction of Krakow Jewry's
spiritual values is evidenced by the fact that the
community's religious school numbers only 10. That
is how the Jewish heritage is being reduced to a
minimum!
*
*
The tragedy is that it need not be so; that Polish
Jewry could enjoy the "religious freedoms" that are
accorded by the Polish government to the Catholic
church. It is an unjustified fear, coupled in many
instances with a desire on the part of Jews who
have turned Communists to be "holier than thou"
that accounts for the unfortunate situation.
The implication in Poland's "religious freedom"
is part of - a .libertarian principle applied by the.
,Polish government to the Catholic church whose
influence over the people is very great and whose
dignitaries have been granted many liberties. But
insofar as the. Polish government is concerned it is
equally apparent that the principles Pursued are
those of "render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's
. . ." and to give the church its unrestricted sway.
over its worshipers—as long as the church can be
kept within its sphere and prevented from seeking
or gaining a political foothold.
There • is, therefore, the inevitable question: If
the Catholics can utilize the religious freedoms
granted them, why can't. the Jews take advantage
Of similar liberties? „ ;:-
The answer, to this correspondent, at least, is
can have such __freedoms; that the-right
they ,havg, to conduct services and to have religious
schools, to publish books; to issue a luakh, indicates
. that if they will it, Jews can have a strong cultural
life in .Poland. Are we to assume that this will is
lacking, That the tendency is toward assimilation,
that intermarriage will swallow up the youth; that—
and this is most vital—the Communist motivation
is holding sway above all traditions?
I aSked one of the top leaders of Warsaw. Jewry
What the` relationshipsare with the nbajews. He
understOod my question: that it related to anti-
Semitisin; and his answer was that - anti-Semitism is
ptinishable by law ins, Poland; but he added: "Ober
as_ inen ,-eken geben shtokh git men"—"whenever
any one can-dig at the Jew, he does it."
In -Krakow -there are outdoor shrines at which
men -and. women frequently stoop to pray, to count
the -beads,- to 'give the sign of the cross,- and -then
to throw coins into a church charity box. Such rights
to religious observance are in evidence also for
Jews. Note, as proof, the fact that the American
Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, with the assist-
ance of the Polish government, is now establishing a
Jewish Home for the Aged in WarSaw. It will have
a kosher kitchen with a mashgiach—a supervisor
for Kashrut—and a synagogue for the residents of
the home. It is evident that religion is not com-
pletely• proscribed in Poland, but is, on the contrary,
being abandoned by the members of the Jewish
community.

*

*

General Janusz Zarzycki, the president (Mayor)
of the City Council of Warsaw, at a meeting with
American Jewish leaders, spoke frankly about Israel
and the desirability of continued Israeli-Polish
friendly cultural relations.
General Zarzycki, himself a survivor from the
horrors of Auschwitz and other concentration camps;
whose first wife, who was a Jewess, and most of his
family perished in the Nazi extermination camps,
was frank about Israel and did not hesitate to
speak about the good relations with the Jewish
State. Only the Jewish representatives became fright-
ened every time Israel was mentioned; and the most
shocking experience of all during the visit in Poland
with other American Jewish representatives was
that they labored under the utterly false impression
that one had to speak softly about Israel in Poland
and • that there was to be hush-hush about Jews
when discussing them with non-Jews. It hardly added
to the .self-respect of Jewish spokesmen.
_A short time ago, Israel and Poland raised their
restricted diplomatic exchange to embassies, and

This article is being published simultaneously
with its appearance in the American Jewish Con-
gress Weekly of New York and World Jewry
Magazine of the World . Jewish Congress of Lon-
don, England. .

By Philip
Slomovitz.

there is no apparent bias against Israel in Poland.
Yet, Jewish visitors were warned officially- not
to speak too much or too openly about Israel!
A big why must be posed here, and an answer
surely is available.
The fact is that the Polish press is openly
friendly to Israel and does not hesitate, unlike
the press in the USSR, to report Israeli doings and
to be much more than cordial to Israel. But the
only Yiddish paper in Poland, the Folksztymme, is
unfriendly, suspicious, often antagonistic.
Again: why?
When a lady in Warsaw, who gets frequent gifts
fro_m American relatives and who is anxious to go
to the United States, was asken why she does not
go to Israel, since, as she said, she could _emigrate
if she wished, her reply was:, "why don't you Ameri-
can Jews go to Israel?"
Why this negative attitude among Jews that is
so self-deprecating?
* # *
Painfully, with a deep sense of inner hurt; this
correspondent is forced to the conchision that the
remaining remnant of Polish Jews has reverted to
a medieval status of self-hatred and of fear. We
have in Polish Jewry a revival today of the Mah
Yohfis Jew.
In the era When Jews lived at' the mercy of the
Polish poritz and pan, of the landowner who granted
the Jew certain rights to economic activity, the
Polish master often took advantage of his Jewish
subjects. When arranging parties, at which - there
would be a lot of drinking, he would order his Jew
who conducted business in his domain to appear
before him, often dressed as a bear or in some
other form of masque, and would command him to
dance for him and to sing for 'him the Mah Yohfis
while often flagging him as he acted the part.
- The Mah Yohfis is . contained in the Jewish
Zemiros, in Sabbath hymns, and it originates from
the Song of Songs (Shir HaS'hirim), 7:7: "Mali
Yohfis uMali NOamt, Ahava Bataatiugim" "How
fair and how pleasant art thou, 0 love, for delights."
It was selected . because of its paean of love and
joy of life.
- • -
- • •
Jews who submitted to 'stich indignities- Were
therefore branded-, foi. all time to come, as Mah
Yohfis Jews. The manner of humiliating theiriselves,
of being so fearful about the very mention of Israel,
of their refusal to show some dignity as Jews;' places
'many of the JeWS''of pregent-day •'Poland in this
category. • • - ,)% -
„'
.
Polish Jews boa t''espe" ciall abvnt` Aheit tatibital
Jewish Theater which functions'ulider .. the
ship of the world famous actress Ida Kamiriska.
For the group of visiting American Jews, this
theater chose to • play "Ilartiali'Y Arli$ieedanie--
"Baruch fun Ainsterdarh." pray Written - by a
Communist, Chaim Slowes,' it lacks Jewish dignity,
it is anti-religious and it distorts the baSic -truths
about the hero of the play, - Baruch (Benedict)
Spinoza, whose true aspects on TeWish traditions has
been properly evaluated iri a pbSitii7e -fashion by
noted scholars. But this - theater, which' is' acclaimed
as Polish Jewry's greatest achievement, could 'find
no other play to offer to Ametican guests - than one
that is deprecatory to Jewish sensibilities!
When one of the leading actors in' this 'theater
suggested to this correspondent that the theater
should be brought to the U.S. for a tour of Jewish
communities, I asked (in Yiddish): "Would you
come to American Jewry with a 'Baruch fun Spi-
noza' and its antagonistic contents," he replied:
"Nu, vellen mir shpielen `Mirele Efros' "—"Well,
then we'll play `Mirele Efros' " (an old-time Yiddish
theatrical melodrama).
The fact is that this National Jewish Theater of
Warsaw very often plays Polish plays, that it does
not have a Jewish following, that with its govern-
ment subsidies it must depend upon the non-Jewish
community for audiences.
(The New York Times recently carried this an-
nouncement: "Yiddish Drama About Spinoza: Torus
From Amsterdam' by Dr. Chaim Sloves, will open
Saturday night at the Barbizon Plaza Theater. The
show is being presented by the New Yiddish Theater
Group Players. There will be performances on Dec.
15 and at 7:30 on Dec. 23." Is the mockery and the
travesty being transported to this country?)
* .*
*
At the unnecessarily lavish dinner given by
Warsaw's Jewish "cultural" representatives to the
American delegation, on the eve of their departure
from Poland,. this correspondent had a brief dis-
cussion with one of the leading men of the Warsaw
National Jewish Theater.. The actor expressed confi-
dence that his troupe could revolutionize the Amer-
ican Jewish theater and could bring back to the
Yiddish theater a great many Jews. This correspon-
dent pointed out to him the facts of life in Warsaw
proper—how inadequate the Jewish theater is on its
home soil as an inspiration to Jews, especially to
young Jews; what an utter failure it is, except in
its ability to serve Poles in Polish; and the Yiddish
leading man then said to me: "Ich zeh az fun eich
zeinen nito keine seides. Iz besser az men ret tzu
di vas fershtehen nit kein Yiddish, vellen mix blei-
ben bei unzere seides"—"I see that from you there
are no secrets. Then it is better to speak to those
who do not understand Yiddish; then we will remain
with our secrets." There were very few among the
Continued on Page 32

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