For over 60 years, Katarzyna’s grandmother had been pained by the question of how her childhood best friend, Rose, murdered by the Nazis, had suffered at the end. It wasn’t until the end of her life that she shared her anguish with her granddaughter.

Participants in the Lehrhaus Judaica study tour of Poland in September met Katarzyna when she was their docent at the Galicia Jewish Museum in Krakow. She described her personal journey: unaware that Jews had lived in her small town, she set out to learn about the people who once made up 60 percent of the population. She realized the Jews had been erased: first physically and then removed from Poland’s collective memory. She found out, too, that Rose had suffered an agonizing death from carbon monoxide poisoning. With that knowledge, Katarzyna faced the dilemma of whether or not to tell her grandmother the awful truth.

Now Katarzyna plans to build a monument in her hometown to honor the memory of “the people who used to live among us.”

This was one of many visceral experiences Deborah Louria had while on the study tour. A longtime Jewish communal professional and activist, she chose to travel to Poland with Lehrhaus Judaica so she could gain a more personal understanding of what happened to Polish Jewry. After learning that 70 percent of diaspora Jews have Polish ancestry, that well over three million Jews lived in Poland in 1939, and that 9 out of every 10 Jews perished in the Holocaust, she felt that Poland was both a memorial to the Jewish people, and so much more.

Young non-Jews, like Katarzyna, and Jews who recently learned about their heritage are bringing Polish Jewish history back into the country’s consciousness. As Louria notes, “The revival of the Jewish community is in the hands of the grandchildren. And many of this younger generation have no insight into their Jewish heritage.” Indeed, the 37-year-old president of the Warsaw Jewish community, Anna Chipczynska, told the Lehrhaus Travel group that she learned she was Jewish at the age of 18.

While in Warsaw, the group also appreciated the contribution Lehrhaus Judaica has recently made to raise awareness of the Holocaust and to Jewish life in Poland. The travelers participated in the Polish-language book launch for Out On A Ledge, a bestselling, award-winning Lehrhaus publication written by Eva Libitzky and Traveling Scholar, Fred Rosenbaum.

“It was a remarkable evening,” Louria said. “Here we are a group of Jews from Northern California sitting with Fred in Warsaw, speaking with Eva [via video conference in Florida], celebrating her survival, hearing her stories and learning about the family she’d created after surviving the Lodz ghetto and the concentration camps. It totally personalized our visit to Lodz.” The local guide, holding a well-worn, marked-up copy of Out on a Ledge “returned to Eva’s story over and over again” while touring the infamous ghetto where Eva lived until she and her family were deported to Auschwitz.

As the study tour participants learned, such poignant testimony is critical to understanding the Holocaust, and is integral to the history of Poland, where a new chapter in Jewish life is emerging.

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