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Hearts of the Fathers

Aharon Granot

It’s no longer breaking news that many young people in Poland have discovered their Jewish roots after grandparents — natural or adoptive — came clean with deathbed confessions. But what is news is how elderly Jews themselves, concealed as Christians in order to be saved, have begun to return together with the next generation.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Anna Grigal Horen says the sounds of the tolling church bells from her childhood will always remain etched in her consciousness. While her friends in Nowy Sacz — Sanz, the cradle city of Sanzer chassidus — enjoyed normative homes with parents, brothers and sisters, little Anna was surrounded by nuns dressed in white, with crosses dangling from their necks who would wake her in the morning and take her down to the prayer hall. “When I was a child, I always assumed that my ‘mother’ decided to become a nun after I was born. I thought we lived without a father because he lived a life of frivolity and my mother didn’t want him to have a bad influence on me,” says 75-year-old Anna today, as she walks down the steps after Rabbi Avi Baumol’s shiur. Since the fall of the Iron Curtain and Poland’s transformation into a democracy, an increasing number of Poles have begun to discover their families’ Jewish roots. These include young people whose Jewish parents or grandparents were put up for adoption with Polish families or Christian institutions in a desperate attempt to save them from the Nazi onslaught seven decades ago. It’s no longer breaking news that many young people in Poland are discovering their Jewish roots after grandparents — natural or adoptive — come clean with deathbed confessions. But what is news, according to Rabbi Avi Baumol — an emissary of the Shavei Israel organization to Krakow — is that elderly Jews themselves, who were often concealed as Christians in order to be saved, have begun to return together with their grandchildren. Rabbi Baumol, who served as rabbi in Vancouver’s Orthodox shul before making aliyah in 2003, where he continued teaching in several American yeshivos and seminaries, feels his service in Poland is a closure of sorts. He comes from a rabbinic line that goes back tens of generations in Poland — his grandfather received semichah from the last rav of Tarnow. ForRabbiBaumol, helping young Polish Jews retrace their lost heritage is a validation of his own roots, but he says the surprising phenomenon of elderly Jews reclaiming their heritage at the end of their lives is especially meaningful.Anna, whose 25-year-old grandsonThomas was the catalyst for her own Jewish reawakening, says she discovered the truth about herself when she was 12. It was already after the war, but Jew-hatred was rife in Poland.Anna had gotten into a fight at school, and when her teacher came to settle matters, she couldn’t contain her contempt. “Dirty Jewess, too bad they brought you to this village and didn’t letHitler finish you off,” she snarled. “I returned home shaken, pale, and trembling,”Anna relates. “and then I cornered my ‘mother’ for a conversation. At first she denied it, but I kept pressing her to reveal the truth, and she finally admitted that I was a Jew and had been brought to the convent when I was just a few months old. 

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