Jewish History in Poland World War II and Beyond

At the start of World War II, Poland was partitioned between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union (the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact). The war resulted in the death of one-fifth of the Polish population, with 90% or about 3 million of Polish Jewry killed along with approximately 3 million Polish non-Jews. Examples of Polish gentile attitudes to German atrocities varied widely, from actively risking death in order to save Jewish lives, and passive refusal to inform on them; to indifference, blackmail, and in extreme cases, participation in pogroms such as the Jedwabne pogrom. Grouped by nationality, Poles represent the largest number of people who rescued Jews during the Holocaust.

In the postwar period, many of the approximately 200,000 Jewish survivors registered at Central Committee of Polish Jews or CKŻP (of whom 136,000 arrived from the Soviet Union) left the Communist People’s Republic of Poland for the nascent State of Israel and North or South America. Their departure was hastened by the destruction of Jewish institutions, post-war violence and the hostility of the Communist Party to both religion and private enterprise, but also because in 1946–1947 Poland was the only Eastern Bloc country to allow free Jewish aliyah to Israel without visas or exit permits. Britain demanded Poland to halt the exodus, but their pressure was largely unsuccessful. Most of the remaining Jews left Poland in late 1968 as the result of the Soviet-sponsored “anti-Zionist” campaign. After the fall of the Communist regime in 1989, the situation of Polish Jews became normalized and those who were Polish citizens before World War II were allowed to renew Polish citizenship. Religious institutions were revived, largely through the activities of Jewish foundations from the United States. The contemporary Polish Jewish community is estimated to have approximately 20,000 members, though the actual number of Jews, including those who are not actively connected to Judaism or Jewish culture, may be several times larger.

Oskar Schindler

“I just couldn’t stand by and see people destroyed. I did what I could, what I had to do, what my conscience told me I must do…”

~ Oskar Schindler, Righteous Among the Nations.

Oskar Schindler was a German industrialist and a member of the Nazi Party who saved the lives of 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust by employing them in his enamelware and munitions factories near Krakow. These Jews were registered on what came to be known as “Schindler’s List”.

Thousands of descendants of “Schindler’s Jews” are alive today thanks to his brave actions.

Oskar Schindler died on the 9th of October 1974 in Germany, and is buried in Jerusalem. Before his death, a tree was planted in his and Emilie’s honor in Yad Vashem’s Avenue of the Righteous. He is pictured standing next to his tree on Yad Vashem’s campus.

Oskar and Emilie Schindler are among the 27,000+ heroic non-Jews recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations for risking their lives to rescue Jews during the Holocaust.

Sources: Yad Vashem

Holocaust Best Friend Reunion

The Washington Post has a heartwarming story about two women who were best friends as children in 1938 Germany, when Kristallnacht took place and the Holocaust descended. They fled Germany separately, and, after searching for each other for decades, finally found each other. One lives in New Jersey, the other in Chile.

Every Sunday, Betty Grebenschikoff and Ana María Wahrenberg have a scheduled phone call. They often lose track of time talking, as best friends tend to do.

The weekly calls are only a recent ritual. In fact, just four months ago, both women believed the other had died in the Holocaust.

“For 82 years, I thought my best friend from Germany was dead,” Grebenschikoff said. “I’d been looking for her for all those years, and I never found her.”

That’s right: 82 years! Betty Grebenschikoff and Ana María Wahrenberg are now 91 years old, and they searched for each other for a lifetime. And they found each other, thanks to Stephen Spielberg, but I’ll let you read about that for yourself. It was the merest chance. Now they talk every Sunday in a video call:

When the women heard the other was still alive, they were shocked and delighted in equal measure.

“It was such a miracle,” said Grebenschikoff, who called the unlikely reunion “bashert,” Yiddish for “destiny.”

Grebenschikoff joined the Zoom call on Nov. 19 from her home in St. Petersburg, Fla., while Wahrenberg signed on from Santiago. Right away, they started chatting in German, their shared language.

“It was like no time had passed,” Grebenschikoff said. “Of course, 82 years makes a difference, but more or less, we just picked up where we left off.”

The story will make you tear up:

Otto Frank Liberated from Auschwitz

On this day in 1945, the Russian army liberates Auschwitz concentration camp. Otto Frank is one of around 8,000 prisoners remaining in the camp, most of them desperately ill.

Otto Frank is the only one of the eight people who hid in the Secret Annex to survive the horrors of the war. He has lost his wife Edith and his daughters Margot and Anne.

Shortly before his death he says:

“I am now almost ninety and my strength is slowly failing. Still, the task I received from Anne continues to restore my energy: to struggle for reconciliation and human rights throughout the world.”

Otto Frank died on 19 August 1980.

Photo Otto Frank 1979.

#HMD #HolocaustMemorialDay #Auschwitz

Steve Ross (né Szmulek Rozental)

Holocaust survivor Steve Ross (né Szmulek Rozental) was born in 1931 near Łódź, Poland. He spent five years in ten different concentration camps, including Budzyń, Auschwitz, and Dachau. He survived medical experiments, starvation, sexual abuse, and brutal beatings on a daily basis. When Ross was liberated from Dachau in April 1945, he was 14 years old and weighed 50 lbs. Among the American troops who liberated the camp was Lt. Steve Sattler, whose act of kindness restored Ross’s hope in humanity, even after everything he had been through. When Lt. Sattler saw Ross, he jumped down from atop his tank, hugged the emaciated child, and shared his food rations with him. He also gave the boy a handkerchief decorated with the American flag. After the war, Ross settled in the Boston area where he became a social worker and spent his life helping at-risk youth. When speaking to students about his experience, he would carefully unfurl the American flag handkerchief, and share how one small act of kindness can transform a life.

Photo: Steve Ross holding handkercheif (Getty Images)

Source: American Society for Yad Vashem