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The main question is do the remaining 7300 Jews still have a future in Poland, or shall they leave?

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Author Justyna Michniuk is seen in front of POLIN Museum in Warsaw. (Photo: Supplied)

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TSKŻ- the largest Jewish organization in today’s Poland 

The TSKŻ (Polnisch: Towarzystwo Społeczno-Kulturalne Żydów w Polsce, TSKŻ; jiddisch Ḳulṭur-Gezelshafṭlekher Farband fun di Yidn in Poyln, English: The Social-Cultural Society of Jews in Poland ) is a secular Jewish society that was founded on October 29, 1950. As already mentioned, the post-war period in Poland was cruel: the Jews who survived often had no families or homes. In the new Polish state that had just emerged, they were often faced with renewed anti-Semitic hostility. Some immediately emigrated to Israel, others stayed and tried to find their way around the new reality.

The TSKŻ was an important pillar that helped many to get on their feet and to shape life anew. The first chairman of the TSKŻ was Grzegorz Smolar. His real name was Hirsch Smolar and was a journalist and writer and was one of the resistance fighters in the Minsk ghetto. He held the position of chairman of the TSKŻ from 1950 to 1962. Although times were difficult and many did not want to come out as Jews, the TSKŻ grew and soon had a wide range of options for adults and children.

Meanwhile, the parents for example met to sing in a choir, the children learned Yiddish, did handicrafts or got to know Jewish culture and history better. Summer camps for children were also organized, among others on the Baltic Sea in Poronin, Słupsk or in Masuria, for instance in Mrągowo. 

Smolar was dismissed from all offices in 1968 in the course of the antisemitic campaign during the so-called March riots and later emigrated to Israel, where he died in 1993.

The Social-Cultural Society of Jews in Poland currently has around 2700 members, making it the largest Jewish organization in Poland. The representatives of the TSKŻ can be found in 17 Polish cities such Warsaw and also in Łódź, Katowice, Legnica, Lublin or Żary.

Since 2006, Artur Hofman, Polish director and editor-in-chief of the magazine ‘’Słowo żydowskie’’ (Yiddish: דאָס ייִדישע וואָרט, Dos Jidisze Wort, English: The Yiddish Word), has been the chairman of the organization.

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Present Jewish communities in Poland: between the past and the future

In 1993, the Union of Jewish Religious Communities (Polish: Związek Gmin Wyznaniowych Żydowskich, ZGWŻ) was registered as a continuation of the Jewish Religious Union. It operates on the basis of the Act on the State’s Relationship to Jewish Religious Communities in the Republic of Poland of 1997 and on the basis of internal law.

It is the legal successor of the pre-war communes; represents Polish Jews in the process of recovering the property of Jewish communities. The aim of the Association is to organize the religious and cultural life of communes in Poland as well as charity activities.

Within the ZGWŻ there is a social welfare department supervised by the Social Welfare Commission. The Union consists of eight Jewish communities: in Warsaw, Wrocław, Kraków, Łódź, Szczecin, Katowice, Bielsko-Biała and Legnica, and two branches: in Gdańsk and Poznań. The union has about 2.5 thousand. Members and it employs eight rabbis. The Jews have seven active synagogues and 10 prayer houses at their disposal. 

Regional Museum in Sokółka, displaying an exhibition about the history of Jews in the area. (Photo: Justina Michniuk)

Today Jews are a national minority, to which 7,353 Polish citizens declared their affiliation during the 2011 National Census of Population and Housing (according to the data of the previous National Census of 2002, the number of the Jewish minority was 1,055), including in the:

*  Mazowieckie Voivodeship – 2,690 people (according to the National Census of Population and Housing of 2002 – 397),

*  Lower Silesia – 880 (according to the National Census of Population and Housing of 2002 – 204),

*  Małopolska – 745 (according to the National Census of Population and Housing of 2002 r. – 50).

Headstones in a Jewish cemetery in Cieszyn, southern Poland. (Photo: Justina Michniuk)

This world no longer exists. This world was torn out by the roots

In many Polish cities we can find historical Jewish cemeteries. Most of them have been abandoned a long time ago. They are devastated and very often the streets in these cities or some public buildings have been re-built after WW2 by use of the old Jewish Mazewot. “This world no longer exists. This world was torn out by the roots ”- these words describe very well the current situation of many cities, which used to be Jewish.

Polish society is still very antisemitic and the current government still supports it and would like to clearly worsen the attitude of Polish people to all foreigners in order to rule a unified Catholic country.

But there is also some good news from Poland; like the inauguration of the POLIN, Museum of the History of Polish Jews, in Warsaw in 2013. The mission of the POLIN is to preserve the memory of the thousand-year presence of Jews in Poland. It is the only museum in Poland and in the world entirely devoted to the history of Polish Jews, and next to the Holocaust Museum in Washington and Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, it is one of the most important institutions of this type in the world. 

Exhibition of My Jewish Mother, My Polish Mother at the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw. (Photo: Justina Michniuk)

The POLIN Museum is a modern, multimedia center for education and culture. The aim of his activity is to show the history of Jews in the historic territories of the Republic of Poland and to support all activities aimed at their commemoration, education of the next generations in the spirit of mutual tolerance and respect for Jewish tradition and culture. 

On the other hand the only Jewish magazine in Poland, MIDRASZ, was closed in January 2020 due to lack of support of the Polish government. Other minorities in Poland are also not thriving, because the right-wing Polish government takes away the financial support for their cultural institutions.

The main question is: do Jews still have a future in Poland or shall they leave? It cannot be of course clearly answered, because the Jewish culture has been a part of Polish culture for hundreds of years and for Jews living there since generations ago, it is their homeland. They do not have any other and fight for their identity, culture and religion to survive, even if the atmosphere is not conducive to this.

Inside of the Bet Tahara project by internationally acclaimed architect Erich Mendelsohn, installed in Olsztyn, Poland in 2013. (Photo: Justina Michniuk)

Footnotes:

4. Szuchta R., 1000 lat historii Żydów polskich. Podróż przez wieki(English: 1000 years of the history of Polish Jews. A journey through the ages),page 286.

5. TSKZ.PL, “Przeszłość – przyszłości” – 70 lat Towarzystwa Społeczno-Kulturalnego Żydów w Polsce (English: The past and the future ”- 70 years of the Social and Cultural Society of Jews in Poland ), http://tskz.pl/en/przeszlosc-przyszlosci-70-lat-towarzystwa-spoleczno-kulturalnego-zydow-w-polsce-3/

6.  Szuchta R., 1000 lat historii Żydów polskich. Podróż przez wieki(English: 1000 years of the history of Polish Jews. A journey through the ages),page 313.

7.  Governmental Website of the Republic of Poland, GOV.PL, Mniejszości narodowe i etniczne w Polsce oraz ich języki (English: National and ethnic minorities in Poland and their languages),  https://www.gov.pl/web/mniejszosci-narodowe-i-etniczne/zydzi

8.  Canin M., Przez ruiny i zgliszcza. Podróż po stu zgładzonych gminach żydowskich w Polsce (English: Through ruins and fire sites. A journey through a hundred destroyed Jewish communities in Poland), Warsaw 2018.

9.  Canin M., Przez ruiny i zgliszcza. Podróż po stu zgładzonych gminach żydowskich w Polsce (English: Through ruins and fire sites. A journey through a hundred destroyed Jewish communities in Poland), Warsaw 2018.

10. POLITYKA, Hartman J., Nagonka na LGBT to za mało? TVP postawiła na antysemityzm (English: Is the LGBT agony not enough? Polish public television, TVP,  focused on anti-Semitism),https://www.polityka.pl/tygodnikpolityka/spoleczenstwo/1960386,1,nagonka-na-lgbt-to-za-malo-tvp-postawila-na-antysemityzm.read.

Justyna Michniuk is an experienced journalist, originally from Poland. She was previously published in the Polish Jewish magazine MIDRASZ, and is now writing for the German/Israeli Website hagalil.com and for anyone asking for ‘Jewish topics’.

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