Polish Jews who survived Holocaust working to keep culture alive

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WYTV) – Youngstown State’s Center for Judaic and Holocaust Studies hosted a lecture on Polish Jews, 90 percent of whom were killed during the Holocaust of WWII.

The speaker, Dr. Annamaria Orla-Bukowska, was an American-born Polish professor who gave the audience some hope that Polish Jews would not become extinct. She was greeted with applause by the 30 people at Youngstown’s Steel Museum on Monday night.

Orla-Bukowska has lived in Poland since 1985 and recalled one of her first encounters with a Polish Jew.

“I met one Jew in Krakow who was my age…and he said he was the last one,” she said.

Raised Catholic in Chicago, Orla-Bukowska has become one of the world’s experts on Polish Jews during and after the Holocaust.

“So after WWII, about ten percent of the pre-war Jewish population had survived,” she said.

She said it took almost 50 years for Poland’s Jewish culture to resurrect itself and it was driven by the younger generation. She talked specifically about one 15-year-old girl raised Catholic whose mother was Jewish.

“She went to her grandmother and said, ‘How do we do Seder, how do we do Passover?'” Orla-Bukowska said.

Orla-Bukowska also showed pictures of recent demonstrations of what she called “fascist groups.” One of the pictures read, “Mohammed not welcome.” She called the Muslims the new Jews in town.

Orla-Bukowska also held up a 2013 calendar published by the Jewish Community Center of Krakow. It’s used to celebrate three generations of Polish Jews.

“People are buying this calendar because it’s for sale and they’re putting it up on their walls at home. We have come a long way,” she said.

She gave one other example of how Polish-Jewish relations have improved. Several years ago, the president of Poland decided he would attend the first night of Hanukkah and light the first candle at the synagogue.