Tekst jest traktowany jako integralna całość, można go cytować, ale zgodnie z prawem z podaniem źródła, tzn. autora książki i jej tytułu, osoby udzielające wywiadu, no i tłumacza amatora:). Tłumaczenie jest moje (z pomocą Google Translate), dlatego jest pewnie w nim dużo błędów:), pro publico bono, całkowicie bez wynagrodzenia.
From America to Poland
with Michael Schudrich
The American rabbi comes to Poland from Japan. What surprised you the most when you arrived in our country?
Before I started my work here, I was in Poland six times. First time in 1973. Living in Bydgoszcz and Warsaw are of course two different things. However, Poland wasn’t a completely unknown place for me.
Have you brought any stereotypes with you about Poles?
I came here for the needs of the Jewish community. I deeply believed that there are people here who have Jewish roots and who need help, which consists in giving them the opportunity to learn Jewish culture and religion. When I came to Poland, of course, I had stereotypes about Poles. When I lived in the United States, I heard the negative things about Poles. Here, however, I understood that these stereotypes are untrue.
Do these negative stereotypes about the Poles only exist in the environment from which you come from, or do they also occur among Jews from Israel, Canada, etc.?
I didn’t research on this subject. I think, however, that negative stereotypes about Poles are present not only in the Jewish community, but in everyone, including non-Jewish Americans. I don’t remember exactly when, but about 10-15 years ago, my friend was at a conference in Africa. She met a woman from Rwanda who, when she found out that she had come from Poland, told her that one of the things she knows about Poland is that has strong anti-Semitism. It was, as you can see, a widespread stereotype, and it didn’t occur only among the Jewish community.
Some say that the stereotype of Poles' anti-Semitism is even stronger than the stereotype of German anti-Semitism after the WW2? What do you think?
After the war, the stereotype of German anti-Semitism was very strong. It wasn’t even a stereotype, it was a truth. In the 1970s, it was normal in the United States not to buy goods produced in Germany. Nobody then bought Mercedes. It isn’t true, therefore, that the stereotype of German anti-Semitism wasn’t strong. However, this has changed. In Germany, the dialogue began after the war. Then there was forgiveness and reconciliation. In Poland, for a thousand years, everyday contacts and interactions between Jews and Poles took place. It was something natural and normal. From 1939 to 1989, however, there was no possibility of normal contact. For 50 years, Polish-Jewish relations have been frozen. The Polish-Jewish dialogue began only after 1989. And that is the crux of the problem. Therefore, it isn’t surprising that these relations are different than the German-Jewish relations.
Several hundred thousand Jews live in Germany today. Many Jewish organizations and institutions operate there. In Poland, of course, there is also a slow revival of the Jewish community. Our state, however, is still associated by the Jews with the cemetery. The establishment of such institutions as the Museum of the History of Polish Jews - POLIN is slowly changing, but still Jewish life in Poland doesn’t look like in Germany. Why?
There are several hundred thousand Jews living in Germany today, because they came there from Russia and from the countries of the former USSR area, such as Kazakhstan, Belarus and Ukraine. They went to Germany not because they liked Germans, but because there were the best conditions for living, including good social assistance. This is normal for human. They just wanted to lead a better life. Settlement in Germany was the best solution for them, especially since they didn’t want to go to Israel. When it comes to the activities of Jewish organizations in Germany, there are a lot of them, because there are many Jews living there. This isn’t because Jewish organizations are first set up and only then Jews are invited, only the other way around. First, there is a Jewish community and later Jewish organizations are founded as part of the needs. In Germany, there was a need to create such organizations, because most of the Jews who came there didn’t have any Jewish education. In the USSR she was absolutely cut off from Jewish life. We had to restore their Jewish identity by bringing them closer to tradition, culture and religion. That's how it looks in Germany. In Poland, we will always see the Jewish cemetery. Why? Because it just is. Most of the six million Jews were killed here. Of course, they were beaten by the Germans. However, it is in the Polish land that millions of Jewish victims lie. This is a fact, not a stereotype. When a Jew comes to Poland, he thinks about family members who were killed here. This isn’t anti-Polish, it is related to the fact that this is the place of his personal mourning.
The survey conducted by CBOS in July 2015 shows that Poles also associate Jews mainly with the Holocaust and the WW2. Are we so far away from each other? Are only the monuments of extermination left to us from Jewish life in Poland? Is the creation of the POLIN Museum, which was openly received by the opinion-forming "The New York Times" as a signal indicating that Poland is also something other than a place associated with the Holocaust, these associations can change?
The POLIN Museum tells the story of a thousand years of common life for Poles and Jews. It doesn’t concentrate solely on this part of the story in which Jews were killed by Germans and collaborators. He talks about how Jews and Poles lived together in these lands and that is important. It is a mistake, therefore, to think that Jews won’t identify Poland with the cemetery. This is a cemetery, but not only a cemetery. Most Jews will come to Poland, not to Ukraine, Slovakia or Slovenia only because the Germans built Auschwitz on its territory. If Auschwitz and Treblinka weren’t here, certainly fewer Jews would come to Poland. This is a fact. Good or bad, no matter. It just is and it can’t be changed. However, when Jews come here, they have a chance to see in Poland not only so many cemeteries. That is why the POLIN Museum is so important.
Jews on Polish soil found a refuge from persecution that they experienced in other European countries. Here they lived, cultivated and created their tradition and culture for almost a thousand years. When Germans carried out the extermination of the Jewish population during the WW2 in Poland, many Polish Catholics risked their lives to save Jews. Years later, the head of the Catholic Church from Poland, the first pope in history, visited the synagogue, prayed at the wall of the Weeping, called anti-Semitism a sin and apologized to Jews on behalf of the Church for persecution. St. John Paul II also spoke to the Jews: “You are our beloved brothers and - we can say - our elder brothers". He also established the patron of Europe, saint Edith Stein. Is the Poland a unique place for Jews?
For sure. There is no doubt that this is a special place for us. When you look at the most important rabbis in the last thousand years, at least half were born, lived and died in Poland. Hasidism, Zionism, Jewish literature, Yiddish - it was all here. It is difficult to answer the question why there is a stereotype that all Poles are anti-Semites. However, there isn’t one answer here. First of all, it must be said that anti-Semitism existed in Poland. I am not saying that there has never been anti-Semitism in Poland, it isn’t true, it was. At the end of the 1930s, it was getting worse. By the action of ONR and other nationalist organizations, it was a terrible time for Jews. It wasn’t, of course, the Holocaust, but it was difficult and unpleasant times for us. Among other things, just for this before the war, so many Polish Jews left Poland. From a psychological perspective, recent experiences related to Poland were negative. They took these bad experiences with them and until 1989 they were the last memories of free Poland. I was also told these unpleasant stories. In addition, Germans who killed Jews during the war remained alien and nameless to their victims. The Pole, who didn’t help the Jews, was usually same one familiar and a friend. He didn’t even have to be a collaborator or a szmalcownik. It simply didn’t help the person who sought help, who lived in front of him during the war. Although Pole could lose his life, the indifference of some Poles to the Jew was more painful than the fact that some stranger wants to kill him.
Among the Poles, however, there were many Righteous who helped Jews risking their own lives.
You are talking about a historical phenomenon. And I am talking about how it was perceived in person. If we want to understand why Jews feel such pain, then their personal experiences are the most important. When a Jew who survived the Holocaust says today that Poles are anti-Semites, it is painful. This isn’t an intellectual analysis, but it results from the pain that it carries within itself. We must understand where this pain comes from. Many Jews who returned to their town after the war (shtetl) heard: "Are you alive? What a shame. You have time until sunset to leave or we beat you". Before the war, the Shtetl numbered about five thousand people. Half of them were Jews, half were non-Jews. After the war Jews were almost completely gone. There were also about ten percent of the population of the town, which was not Jewish, because it was killed. After the war, the shtetl numbered no more than two thousand three hundred inhabitants. A Jew returning to such a shtetl could hear only from four people a threat that they want to kill him. Four people in two thousand three hundred. Is a promil. From the side of a man who returns to his birthplace, where there are no more Jews and hears such a threat, it is a very painful experience that was often the last memory. This is the problem. I am not saying that everyone was threatening Jews in such a shtetl. Even thirty percent of the population didn’t do it. However, just under one percent. Only four people are enough to shed their mark in the memory of a Jew who survived the extermination. Statistics of human memory have their own specificity.
Perhaps this is also due to the fact that Jews had higher expectations towards their Poles as their fellow citizens?
Not fellow citizens, but neighbors. The neighbor fits here better than a fellow citizen. He was often a friend. Rabbi Jacob Baker said in Jedwabne that he remembers how before the war there was such a poverty that people couldn’t afford to buy shoes for all children. It happened that in one and the same shoes Jewish children went to the synagogue on Saturday, and on Sunday, Catholic children went to church. That's how these shoes were shared. These were natural things. Hence, it is a pity that this neighbor didn’t help. Even if one helped, it is remembered that others haven’t helped me and my relatives. This is what the Jews who survived the war often say. For it is extremely painful for them. This is very difficult. We were so close to each other. Poles have their historians and we have our own. However, it isn’t that they disagree with each other as to the facts. In most cases, there is agreement. It is about the emotional interpretation of these facts, which is visible on both sides, although this emotionality is higher among Jews. However, these must be emotional reactions. They won’t be intellectually cool because it is too early. Perhaps it will change in a few generations.
Do Jews try to feel what Poles could feel during the war who decided to risk their lives to save Jews?
Before 1989, almost no. However, since the recovery of Poland's freedom, there are visible changes on both sides. Much more people are open to try to empathize with the pain of the other side. Increasingly, I hear among Jews asking, whether I would be ready to save a man if the Holocaust were aimed at Catholics. Would I be ready to hide a Catholic in my home. And many people answer this question "I don’t know" or "no". I hear it often. And then comes a deeper understanding of what people who hid Jews had to live through.
I am not an expert, of course, and I don’t know which city has a square or street dedicated to their memory. Certainly, however, people in Israel know much more than they did about Irena Sendlerowa, Jan Karski or Władysław Bartoszewski.
I know that in Israel we have a forest dedicated to the victims of Katyn. I think that not many countries in the world have a special forest that commemorates Poles killed in Katyn.
You mentioned the growing empathy in relation to the survival of the other side and the growing knowledge of Jews about the Polish Righteous. During the quarter-century of your stay in Poland, have there been any positive changes in the perception of Jews by Poles and Poles by Jews?
I will show you a newspaper. Please read.
"Why do Jews rule Poland? Secrets of the world". This is the first time I see such a newspaper. Is it normally sold?
Yes, this newspaper can be bought. Please read, this is terrible. "Poland is a Christian country, so igniting Hanukkah candles and other ideological options ... The presidential couple has broken the first commandment of the Decalogue". It is difficult to read such horrible things. This is paranoid anti-Semitism.
I will read on: " President Duda wasn’t the first in this process of being a servant to the Jews. In our time it was John Paul II, and the first Hanukkah candles were lit by Lech Kaczyński".
Still further: "President Duda, regardless of the terrible fate of his predecessor, President Lech Kaczyński, may go on this way, like Lech Kaczyński." This is terrible.
It is something marginal.
Yes, of course, very marginal, for such a large country, but the problem exists. When a foreigner sees something so disgusting, and it is legally sold, you know what he will think. There is of course freedom of expression and there are free media. However, this isn’t only anti-Semitic, but it is against our president. It is dangerous because it is about the death of President Andrzej Duda. Perhaps this should even be done by the Bureau of Government Protection. Of course, anti-Semitic content is less and less and you shouldn’t make a big buzz around them. It can always happen, as is the case here, that a Pole will say terrible things against Jews. It may also happen that a Jew will say terrible things about Poles. Normally, a thinking man must know that there is anti-Semitism in Poland, and there is anti-Polonism among Jews. It should be remembered that these problems are and are a challenge for us. However, we can’t allow the extremism to affect our more and more better relations.
However, one should inform about shameful excesses and publicize the shocking public opinion of things, such as anti-Christian slogans on churches in Israel, or painting Nazi and anti-Semitic symbols on monuments commemorating the Jews murdered by the Germans in Poland. This is the role of the media. But what should you do to avoid creating a standard from the margin?
What is important in this case is how moral leaders behave. In such situations, there must be immediate action. For example, when this terrible arson of a church in Galilee occurred, a group of orthodox rabbis immediately ordered fundraising for its rebuilding. Of course, money can’t do everything, but please note that there has never been a situation before that Jews wanted to rebuild the church with their own money. At that time, there was clear support for Christians from the Jews. When a Jewish puppet was burned in Wrocław, the Catholic Church also reacted very quickly and unambiguously condemned this act. The President of Wroclaw also did it. The Polish government was silent then. Of course, this was most likely caused by the fact that the government had only been in power for several weeks. It is important, however, that in such situations the other party react quickly and decisively.
At that time, however, a "Letter to Polish Patriots" was created, whose signatories indicated that a person who is an anti-Semite can’t be called a patriot. He was signed by many people connected with the Polish right, including myself.
Unfortunately, the government and the president of Poland were silent then.
When in 2006 you were attacked on the street, President Lech Kaczyński met with you. It was a clear signal from the Polish authorities that they wouldn’t tolerate such behavior in Poland.
Of course. In the case of the event in Wrocław, however, there was an omission by the Polish government. I think the next time there will be a reaction. When something is wrong, there must be an immediate reaction at the highest level.
According to information provided by the Jewish Agency, in 2015, almost 10,000 Jews left Western Europe for Israel. Most of them - as many as 8,000. – left the France. The reason for this exodus is anti-Semitism, which is growing in French society, including with the influx of Muslims who are often hostile to Jews and Israel. Is Poland and Warsaw a safe place for Jews compared to other European countries?
Did you hear about any attack on the Jew in Poland in the last five years? Because I didn’t hear. Last was me. When it comes to anti-Semitism in Europe, it is primarily about France. The Jews don’t feel confident there. This isn’t antipathy against Jews, but assaults and terrorism. Jews are afraid for their safety in France. Even when going to the store they have to be aware that they will be attacked and possibly killed. However, this isn’t a problem with Islam. This is a problem with terrorism.
Is the number of members of the Jewish Community in Warsaw increasing?
Over the past two years, the number of members has doubled. Some attend from time to time, others take an active part in the life of the commune.
What is this increase caused by?
It is difficult to say whether Poles who have Jewish roots want to be members of the Commune, because the interest in Jewish culture and Judaism increases, or is it caused by something else. Certainly earlier, during communist times, people were afraid to attend the Jewish Community and have any connection with it. Not everyone, of course, but a large group. In the 1970s, I spoke with people in Hungary and Czechoslovakia and all my interlocutors would tell me that didn’t say even to the best friends that they had Jewish books at home. There was such fear that the young generation can’t feel today. Currently, the worst thing for young people is when their phone has lost range for ten minutes (laughs).
For many secularized Jews, left-wing ideologies and the tragedy of the Holocaust itself became a substitute for religion and the heart of belonging to Jewish culture. Dennis Prager claims that the secular university has become synagogue for the secularized Jews, and the "The New York Times" became the Torah. Does any religion have to deal with the problem of secularization itself, or is it a common problem today, and it is necessary to cooperate with each other?
This is a very interesting question. I have to think deeply about it. I think, however, that I would be open to cooperation in this matter.
Like Fr. Józef Maj, you were supposed to fly on April 10, 2010 to Smolensk by plane, in which died among others Polish President Lech Kaczyński. However, you didn’t fly because of the Sabbath. Do you see God's hand in this?
No, I don’t understand why it happened. It is hard for me to believe that God saved me and let ninety-six people die. I don’t know why I survived, and twenty-some of my friends who were on the plane died. Of course, I thank God for being alive. However, I have a theological problem with that.
During the funeral of the President of the Republic of Poland Lech Kaczyński, you took part in a Catholic funeral mass inside the church. Some of the rabbis weren’t happy about it. Can you be considered liberal when it comes to the approach to Judaism?
No, I'm orthodox. I asked one of the most important orthodox rabbis in Europe about whether I should be at a funeral, not at a mass. He said yes.
The Judaic-Christian dialogue is multi-layered. On one side and on the other side there are many entities in it. On the Christian side, there is, among others Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox. There are also various groups on the Jewish side. Is it possible, however, to point out to the Christians a confession group, with whom dialogues are most easily conducted?
I am not an expert in this matter. I don’t feel competent to speak about dialogue with other Christians. I am in Poland for twenty-five years and dialogue takes place mainly with Catholics. Dialogue should always rely on mutual respect. We celebrate Saturdays, and Christians Sundays. Therefore, there will never be a compromise between us and the fact that we will be celebrating Thursday together. There is no such need. We are different from each other, but we have one common God and we are his children. And this is the most important thing. There are many things that can differ us. But the most important thing is to respect each other and not try to change the other side.
Referring to the changes mentioned by you. Born in Poland, the Great Rabbi of Rome, prof. Israel Zolli, like Roman Brandstaetter, Benjamin H. Freedman, and also born on the territory belonging to today's Poland Edyta Stein, and some of the Jewish intelligentsia in the Warsaw Ghetto, she found in Jesus the Messiah promised by God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Have you ever asked yourself a question and whether even consider the possibility that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah expected by the Jews?
No. First of all, the definitions of the Messiah are completely different in Judaism and Christianity. For us, the Messiah will be a man who will lead the world to peace. It is very easy. If there is no peace today, it means that the Messiah wasn’t yet there.
Does the missionaryity of Christianity disturb the Jews?
Yes. We want to have good contact with Christians, but we don’t want them to try to change our faith.
Evangelization is, however, an inseparable part of Christianity.
I can interpret the mission of John Paul II as an expression that one shouldn’t seek to convert Jews to Christianity. There are of course Protestants who are still striving to convert Jews. A few weeks ago, when I was in Florida, I had an experience with it. I landed in Orlando and rode a minivan to a place where I could rent a car. On the bench next to me sat people around my age. They asked me why I came to Orlando. I told them that I had come to a Jewish conference. They then said that they were on the other side because they were "Born Again Christians." I asked them why we were to be on the other side in a time when many people don’t believe in God at all. After all, he puts us on the same side, we are finally those who believe in God. They have told me that the Jews won’t be redeemed and won’t go to Paradise because they didn’t believe in Jesus. I didn’t tell them anything. Perhaps I will be in hell because I like warmth.
Orthodox rabbis from Israel, the United States and several European countries published on December 3, 2015, the Declaration on “To Do the Will of Our Father in Heaven: Toward a Partnership between Jews and Christians”. In this statement, they call on Jews and Christians: " We seek to do the will of our Father in Heaven by accepting the hand offered to us by our Christian brothers and sisters. Jews and Christians must work together as partners to address the moral challenges of our era. (...) Now that the Catholic Church has acknowledged the eternal Covenant between G-d and Israel, we Jews can acknowledge the ongoing constructive validity of Christianity as our partner in world redemption, without any fear that this will be exploited for missionary purposes”. Is this an important statement?
I think that this is a very important statement. It is natural and obvious.
Is it time, then, for Jews and Christians to change the world together? Does the modern world need our cooperation?
He always needed her, not just now.
Today, however, this cooperation and understanding seems more and more visible and takes shape. The President of the World Jewish Congress, Ronald S. Lauder recently reminded the world that Christians in the Middle East now encounter a similar fate, which once touched the Jews, because no one reproaches them. 95-year-old British publisher and philanthropist of the Jewish roots Lord George Weidenfeld, who survived the Holocaust thanks to Christians (Quakers), undertook a rescue mission among Syrian Christians threatened by Islamic State, saving lives of about 2,000 of them. Thanks to his financial assistance, 158 Syrian Christians could come, among others just to Poland.
He said very clearly that Christians had saved him and he now wants to save Christians. As you can see, good comes back.
The hero of the documentary titled “At the crossroads” priest Romuald Jakub Weksler - Waszkinel discovered quite late that he was saved from the Holocaust and raised by Poles. It happened only when he was 35 years old and he was already 12 years after priestly ordination. In his old age, however, he decided to discover his Jewish identity and went to the Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu in Israel to learn how to be Jewish. He could easily obtain Israeli citizenship if he had abandoned Christianity. A Jew is one who was born of a Jewish mother or converted and isn’t a follower of another religion. Considering that Fr. Weksler-Skrzyszinel became a Catholic cleric, not being aware of being Jewish, gives him any chance of receiving an Israeli citizenship?
He received Israeli citizenship. All I can know is that each situation is different and must be considered in person.
The number of Jews living in the world is slowly returning to the level from before the Holocaust. There are already about 14.2 million of them. More lives outside of Israel. What is more natural for Jew, living in your own country or living in a diaspora?
Some think that in Israel, others think it is in the diaspora. So there are those and those. Wherever you want to live must be an individual choice of each person.
Do you want to settle down in Israel one day?
I have a lot of work here and I really like working in our country. The longer I have the right to retire, the longer I will have to work and I like the job. Therefore, I don’t know when the day will actually happen when I retire. Then I will definitely want to spend it in Israel.
January 21, 2016