WARSAW (Nov. 24)
Polish and Jewish leaders have begun preparations for the massive 45th anniversary observances in 1988 of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising in 1943. This was disclosed by Stefan Grayek, president of the World Federation of Polish Jews and himself a Warsaw Ghetto survivor. Grayek, who is now an Israeli citizen and frequently visits his homeland, played a major role in the 40th anniversary ceremonies in Warsaw in 1983.
Grayek said that plans for the 1988 ceremonies are now well under way and that the events will evoke a strong and universal response. He also noted that participation by Jewish delegates from all over the world is expected to substantially exceed the 1983 attendance and that Israel is expected to be totally supportive of the ceremonies.
These expectations were confirmed by Zbigniew Unger, head of the Congress Department of Orbis, the Polish National Tourist Office. An affable and capable official, Unger had done a noteworthy job in organizing the two-week program three years ago and is quietly enthusiastic about prospects for the 45th anniversary.
ISRAELI-POLISH MUTUAL FRIENDSHIP
There have been no formal relations between Poland and Israel since the Six-Day War, but mutual friendship exists. Groups of Israelis in substantial numbers arrive every other week to tour Warsaw, Cracow and other cities and to make poignant pilgrimages to the former concentration camps.
At the same time, the Polish government has decided to undertake an exchange of “representatives of mutual interests.” Three Polish officials were sent to Tel Aviv in September to handle visas and consular duties and commercial and cultural matters. And their Israeli counterparts, in turn, arrived in Warsaw to reopen the Israel Embassy building closed since 1967.
Grayek was optimistic about this turn of events. “I’ve long prayed for this moment,” he said, “and I deem it an important step on the road to full diplomatic relations in my lifetime.”
A heartening factor is the apparent decrease of PLO influence in Poland since this reporter’s last visit in 1983. The Arabs living in Warsaw are from Libya, Iraq and Lebanon, but the number permitted entrance has been curtailed, especially the corps of Arab students who three years ago seemed to be everywhere and are now much less in evidence.
THE PRESERVATION OF JEWISH VESTIGES
“There are only 1,890 Poles listed as observant Jews in the entire country, with perhaps four of five times that number who rarely, if ever, enter a synagogue” said Michael Bialkowics, director of the Jewish Religious Union in Warsaw. This is a far cry from the 3.5 million before World War II.
And yet, the Polish government seems intent on Preserving the vestiges, and on restoring the desecrated places, symbols and monuments of an annihilated people. It has even gone to the extent of creating a Jewish Cultural society with 14 branches throughout Poland, with perhaps 3,000 members, mainly non-observant Jews and their non-Jewish spouses.
The primary function of these clubs is to keep the Jewish flame burning, to study current trends in Judaism and to learn more about Israel. Lectures and cultural performances are regular features of the society’s annual program. The society publishes the excellent weekly newspaper, Folks-Sztyme, in Yiddish and Polish. Hebrew is a popular subject at the university but almost all of those taking the course are non-Jews.
INTERMARRIAGE IS PERVASIVE
The sad fact is that intermarriage is pervasive and inevitable. There seems no way that the increasingly rare Jewish family unit can remain intact. “How can I raise my child to be a good Jew and continue our traditions, if he is in a Catholic environment; if he or she can’t find a Jewish friend, let alone a Jew to marry?” was the rueful question often heard by this reporter.
In Cracow, there were 60,000 Jews before the war; now there are less than 600. In the year 2000, the head of its community observed, “we will be almost extinct. We have precious few sons and daughters to maintain our faith.”
And yet, the age-old indomitable spirit endures. The Religious Union helps manage the synagogues, takes care of the cemeteries, the mikvahs, runs kosher canteens in eight cities and is preparing to open an attractive kosher restaurant in the center of Warsaw for foreign visitors. They cannot afford a resident shochet, but there are monthly visits from an Hungarian expert.
Observant Jews seem quite well on their own, when one considers that there is not even one rabbi in Poland. All Jewish activities have one indispensable means of aid, in addition to the government: the American Jewish Joint Distribution committee does a most effective job with its financial, practical, and moral support.
(Tomorrow: Part Two)