Join The Conversation With Mishpacha's Weekly Newsletter

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. 

To read the rest of this story, please buy this issue of Mishpacha or sign up for a weekly subscription

Share this page with a friend. Fill in the information below, and we'll email your friend a link to this page on your behalf.

Your name
Your email address
You friend's name
Your friend's email address
Please type the characters you see in the image into the box provided.

Top-Down Theory
Shoshana Friedman Our true currency, the accomplishments we value most
Strive for What Binds Us
Yonoson Rosenblum The chareidi community represents something of an oasis
Embracing Victimhood
Eytan Kobre Combating the allure of victimhood
The Kids Are Going to Camp, the Parents Are Going Broke
Miriam Klein Adelman Mindy has to feel good; it doesn’t matter that I feel ba...
Work/Life Solutions with Carlos Wigle
Moe Mernick “Rejection is Hashem’s protection” 
How to Create a Simple 900-Page Novel
Rabbi Emanuel Feldman All of us can reset the titles of our own lives
Stand There or Do Something
Baruch S. Fertel, MD, MPA, FACEP It’s called collaborative care, and it works miracles
I'm Here — Are You Ready?
Riki Goldstein Upbeat and catchy, but still makes listeners think
Back in Time
Riki Goldstein "I wish I could recapture that excitement"
Mixed Messages
Riki Goldstein The unsung craftsmen who give albums their special touch
Go in Peace
Faigy Peritzman Inner peace makes us vessels for blessing
All Work and No Play
Sarah Chana Radcliffe A life only about doing your duties loses all its color
Dying to Believe
With Rav Moshe Wolfson, written by Baila Vorhand Emunah peshutah is the force behind Jewish continuity