In recent years a limited Jewish awakening has been taking
place in Poland, even though there are fewer Jews throughout
the whole of all Poland than a single Polish city prior to
Gesher, the journal of the American Jewish Congress,
recently published an article by Dr. Lawrence Weinbaum
entitled "Polish Jewry: Not Necessarily the Last Chapter."
"Fifteen years and even ten years ago, all signs indicated
that the Jewish community of Poland was dying out." However,
today, the situation is very different. There is a vibrant
communal activity and a Jewish press. There are classes in
Yiddish and Hebrew, classes in Jewish studies, and
educational institutions for the youth.
In Dr. Weinbaum's opinion, the Jewish attitude toward Poland
is nearly the same as that toward Spain after the Expulsion.
Jews don't forget Poland's collaboration with the Germans,
the establishment of death camps, and the pogroms after the
liberation from the Germans. The antisemitic campaign of the
Communists caused a decline in the Jewish population of
Poland and gave rise to the feeling that it is a country
where Jews cannot live.
Nonetheless, a new Jewish community is now being created in
Poland. "Jewish" he writes "is a very vague definition
regarding the Jews of Poland. Therefore it is hard to
estimate their numbers. It may be assumed that there are
between 10,000-15,000 Jews in Poland, but not all of them are
Jews according to halacha."
After the Holocaust, which destroyed 90 percent of the Jews
of Poland, some tens of thousands of Jews still lived there.
Among those who remained in Poland, were those who reached
senior positions in the government and the security
There were those who considered emigration but could not find
the energy to get up and leave. There was another group
which remained not due to conscious choice. These were the
Jewish children in the custody of Catholic families, who knew
nothing of their Jewish origin. Despite the intensive efforts
of Jewish organizations to locate those children, to rescue
them and to return them to their Jewish environment,
thousands remained in non-Jewish hands. Among them were
Jewish children from Hungary and Greece, and children who had
been thrown from cattle cars on their way to the death
After the war, the Communists tried to relocate the Jews in
the regions from which ethnic Germans had been banished.
The reasons for this policy of resettling are not difficult
to surmise. The Jewish homes and assets were seized either by
Polish neighbors or by the government or were destroyed in
the war. In the areas which the Soviet Union annexed there
were no homes to which to return. But in the eastern regions
there was an ample amount of abandoned German property and
settling the Jews there did not involve uprooting the
Out of 300,000 Polish Jews who survived the Holocaust, nearly
two-thirds had left after 1947. By the middle of 1951, there
were 57,000--80,000 Jews in Poland. In 1956-1958, 20,000
Jews who had lived in the Soviet Union returned to Poland,
but most of them remained there only briefly. As soon as
emigration to Israel (or to other destinations) was
permitted, they got up and left. Other Jews also took
advantage of the opportunity and left, including the majority
of the religious Jews. Among those who remained, the
incidences of intermarriage rose steadily. Within a brief
span of time, the Jewish community which remained there could
have totally disappeared.
The Six-Day War resulted in a sharp wave of anti-Jewish
sentiment. The Polish Interior Ministry founded a special
department for locating Jews, even among assimilated
families. Some 30,000 Jews and half-Jews left Poland then,
many to countries other than Israel.
But amazingly, by the end of the 1970s, a Jewish awakening
began, almost underground. Jewish intellectuals began to
organize study groups in order to familiarize themselves with
The victory of the Solidarity party and liberalism in Poland
paved the way for open interest in Judaism. The Polish
government began to encourage Jewish activity in an effort to
acquire the "heart, and American money." It allowed
organizations like the Joint to begin functioning among the
Jews, especially the elderly.
There is no doubt that the new and most dynamic factor is the
Lauder Fund, which has done more than any other body to
restore Jewish life in Poland and other Communist countries
in eastern and central Europe. Ronald Lauder, who had once
been the American ambassador to Austria, and the heir of a
large business concern, believed in the possibility of Jewish
life in Eastern Europe, and placed an emphasis on returning
young assimilated Jews to their roots. "If Jews want to live
in Poland," Mr. Lauder explained, "we will help them. If they
want to go to Israel, we will help them too."
Today, there are communities with synagogues in Warsaw,
Wraclov Krakow, Katovitz, Lodz, Gdansk, Czezin, and Lagnitza.
There are smaller communities which function as branches of
these communities in Beilskobiala, Bitum, Glivitza. Poznan,
Lublin and a number of cities in Silesia.
A number of Jewish journals are currently published in
Poland, some in Polish and Yiddish. Some of the elderly Jews
of Poland still speak Yiddish, but the official language of
communication is English. Antisemitism has not disappeared.
Surveys show that antisemitic tendencies fester even among
the educated elite. Antisemitism manifests itself by attacks
on Jews and Jewish property. The incidence of vandalism
during the recent period includes a number of cases of arson,
such as the burning of the synagogue in Warsaw on February
1997, the burning of a kosher restaurant, the desecration of
a number of cemeteries, as well as the many verbal attacks
against Jews, including tourists.
The return of Jewish assets and the possibility that Jews
will regain their own property have strengthened these
antisemitic tendencies. In Lodz, where many Jews filed
lawsuits, there were many incidents of antisemitism,
including an attack on a synagogue while Jews prayed there.
All these attacks are attributed to the return of Jewish
property. As a result, the Jews of Lodz are very concerned
about their personal safety.