Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Prayer and Dialogue

This image perfectly captures the solemnity of the day that we spent at Auschwitz I. I could not help but be reminded of the words, “the presence of absence and the absence of presence”.
It has been almost two months since returning from Poland. Though we know the importance of keeping the memory of the Shoah alive, sometimes that becomes difficult. There are endless distractions as part of our day-to-day lives that easily allow us to forget about what we may have seen and heard at the concentration camps just a few short weeks ago. However, when given time to reflect on my experience once again, many questions race through my mind: “Have I done my part in advocating for human dignity? Can people tell what my experiences were like through my actions? Is the memory of the Shoah alive in my everyday life?”

During our last night in Poland, we had a group discussion about how we would take what we learned there and use it in our lives back in New York. We talked about spreading advocacy and love, ultimately as part of an effort to avoid any hatred and discrimination like what was evident in the Shoah. The Holocaust and Nazi Germany are not things that should be forgotten. Rather, they should be the lens through which we look at the future of our world. They should recognized, and in doing so, there will be more efforts made in preventing it from happening again. After all, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” –George Santayana

While in Poland, we stayed at the Centre for Prayer and Dialogue—two important things when discussing the Holocaust. The Centre encourages visitors to simply talk about what happened just a block away during the Second World War, and does so in a peaceful, welcoming way. This dialogue focuses on four different “voices: the voice of the earth, the voice of your heart, the voice of the other, and the voice of God. Engaging in dialogue while listening to these four voices can lead to a world of understanding and of acceptance.

Father Manfred, in one of his lectures, reminded us that dialogue is necessary so that all people can live together and form trust with open encounters. He also said, in another lecture, that it is better to look into somebody’s eyes, rather than at them while engaging in this dialogue. By doing this, we are observing something that lies behind the eyes and therefore developing a deeper relationship with the person. Our relationships, according to Father Manfred, and the responsibility we have in them is what helps us make sense of our lives.

These wise words from Father Manfred go hand-in-hand with the Teaching of Respect. Documents that were discussed in class like Nostra Aetate, We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah, Dabru Emet, and many more are all a part of the Teaching of Respect, which is in direct response to the Teaching of Contempt. I have faith that the world is progressively reaching a point of acceptance, love, and respect for all humans. It is no secret that it best reached through prayer and dialogue, as we got to experience first-hand during our unforgettable time spent in Poland.
An image of stones at the entrance of Auschwitz-Birkenau. In the Jewish faith, stones are used instead of flowers for remembrance, as they are permanent.

Memory And Education: We Must Never Forget

It has now been over two months since we returned from Poland but it seems like only yesterday we were walking through the gates of Auschwitz I. Describing my experience at the death camps has not been easy but I have done my best to put it into words because it is essential, now more than ever, to educate others on the matter. A recent survey, as reported by The New York Times, found there are critical gaps both in awareness of basic facts as well as thorough knowledge of the Holocaust among a majority of Americans. This lack of knowledge is more pronounced among millennials, whom the survey defined as people ages 18 to 34, the future of this country. As reported by The Times: “Thirty-one percent of Americans, and 41 percent of millennials, believe that two million or fewer Jews were killed in the Holocaust; the actual number is around six million. Forty-one percent of Americans, and 66 percent of millennials, cannot say what Auschwitz was. And 52 percent of Americans wrongly think Hitler came to power through force.” This is unacceptable in one of the most educated nations in the world but not necessarily surprising. With each passing decade, events such as the Holocaust can be forgotten and dismissed as mistakes of the past. The only mistake to be made, however, is the mistake of allowing people to forget one of the darkest times in human history.

Keeping the memory of the Shoah alive is vital to our future, for "those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Hearing the testimonies of those who survived the Shoah is one way to keep the memory alive, although this is becoming a difficult task as time goes by and survivors eventually pass away. That is why it is important as an educator to pass this information along to the next generation of scholars. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to hear the stories of several survivors of the Holocaust since January, including the survivor we met with at the JCC in Kraków. I was able to record most of these testimonies and plan on one day transcribing these memories so that they can be both heard and read. These firsthand accounts give you a small glimpse into a bloody period in history where men, women, and children were slaughtered by the millions.

Education about the Holocaust is also of the utmost importance, especially considering the results of the survey reported by The New York Times. While in Poland we attended two classes at Auschwitz I, as well as lectures at the Centre for Dialogue and Prayer in Oświęcim (where we stayed during our trip). One lecture we attended at Auschwitz that I found very interesting was taught by Teresa Wontor-Cichy and titled “Christian Clergy and Religious Life at Auschwitz”. Many do not realize that while the majority of people killed during the Holocaust were Jewish, Christians died as well. Such is the case with Saint Maximilian Kolbe, who offered to die in place of a stranger when that person was selected for death. After the lecture, Professor Wontor-Cichy showed us the area where Maximilian Kolbe volunteered to die, making me wonder if I could have done what he did had I been in his shoes. Effective Holocaust education is a topic that will need to be addressed sooner than later and hopefully more people become aware of the facts. As a History major, I had decided to focus on U.S. history as my specialty but after visiting Poland and seeing those death camps, I have decided to focus on Holocaust history. My classmates and I were given an opportunity to experience something that not many people will have the chance to experience. It is our obligation to help keep the memory of the Shoah alive and educate those who are unaware of what occurred during the Holocaust so that it may never happen again. Remember: we must never forget.
Belongings plundered from the victims of Auschwitz by the SS, found after the liberation of the camp.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Hero

Above is a picture of where Father Maximilian Kolbe's humble act took place.

This picture was taken in Auschwitz I right where Father Maximilian Kolbe’s humble act took place. Prior to attending this trip I did not know who he was, but after hearing his story I was very moved. In the lecture by Father Manfield, we learned that when one prisoner escaped 10 prisoners were punished and killed. When one of the prisoners escaped, a man was selected to be executed. This man begged to not be killed and said, “I have a wife and child!” Father Maximilian Kolbe stepped forward and claimed his place. The Nazis were surprised to see anyone stand up for someone and talk to them the way the Father Maximilian Kolbe did. One of the Nazi even told him to step back in line, but he insisted to take this strangers place and said, “I have no children or family. Let me take his place.” I was very moved when I heard this story, and when I saw the location where this happened.

This picture is the room in which Father Maximilian Kolbe and the other 9 prisoners were placed to die.

Father Manfield mention to us that after 2 weeks of not having any food or water, and being locked in such a small room, the father as well as 2 other man survived. The rest who were locked in this cell had died. Those who shockingly survived the harsh conditions in this cell, then were killed. The fact that the father Maximilian Kolbe lasted for so long in such conditions, meant a lot to me. It showed me how far his faith and good deals brought him. Looking at how small the cell was reminded me of Stan Ronell story. He too was locked in a very tight close space. However, unlike Father Maximilian Kolbe, he was in a closet in a house hiding with his mother. Both Stan Ronell and Father Maximilian Kolbe saw not light for days.

In my psychology classes I learned that humans not only need the sunlight, so they can make large amounts of vitamins D, but also for their mental health as well. When humans are exposed to sunlight, the brain releases serotonin. This is related to helping someone feel calm, and focused. There have also been other studies that states that serotonin helps someone feel happy. Those who do not have enough exposure, may be more prone to depression symptoms. These results have been tested in the north part of Alaska where half the year it is just sunny, and the other half is pure darkness. In addition to all the other factors that many individuals who were victims of the SHOAH faced, it can be said this additional factor only made it worst for them. Not only where the Nazis hurting them physically, but also mentally. This historic trauma may still be seen in those who were affect because of the SHOAH.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Never Again

It has been slightly over a month since we arrived back home from Poland. Since I’ve been back I have had many people contact me saying what a wonder experience it must have been. It was definitely an experience, but perhaps, wonderful is not the right word. We learned so much about how important words are and what they really mean; how a word or a phrase could change history. The phrase I would use is a once in a life time experience, or many a life changing experiences. Since I have been home I feel as though I think about the trip at least once a day and it is not only in relation to antisemitism or Jews, but I use it as a way to think about other daily activities. As our guest speaker Dr. Annamaria Orla-Bukowska said, you can use the Shoah as a lens to look at the rest of the world regardless of the topic. I cannot say how meaningful this trip was. I believe everyone should learn about the Holocaust in a similar way to how we did with great depth. While going through 13 years of school before college, it was barley taught in high school: it was treated as a very brief history lesson which is wrong. The teaching of the Shoah is an ongoing lesson, a lesson many individuals still need to learn.

It is said that the reason we learn about topics like this is so that they never happen again. Yet we also learned there have been 7 genocides since the Holocaust, none with nearly as many victims which is why it is not widely covered. We also learned that since the Holocaust, the United Nations decided that if we label something a genocide that means we must act without question. This shows that not only do the people not learn, but neither do the nations. A common phrase you hear after the Holocaust is “Never Again,” but we as students of Jewish Christian Relations and the Holocaust have to ensure “Never Again.” It is our duty after taking in all the facts and after a full semester concentrating deeply into the matter that we be activists. It does not take much; it can begin as just confronting people who spew hate. In order to move forward we need to help all move forward. There are some people in this world who are just hateful, and regardless of any facts you give or any time you tell them not to say something, they will just say it more but it is important to try. We now know what one man’s hate can cause. The flag of the prisoners of Auschwitz still flies every day. While 10 million died, Hitler still lost. If people learn the holocaust perhaps the next hatful person will lose without ever taking a life. It is ignorant to believe we can stop all hate, but it is not unrealistic to believe we can stop another atrocity. Everyone must act when in the face of hate.

A Duty to Remember and Never Forget

“I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” –Elie Wiesel

It has been almost 2 months since I have left New York to indulge myself in the Polish culture and increase my knowledge in Jewish-Christian relations. Thinking back to the flight from Amsterdam to Krakow, I remember feeling incredible nervous: what will this trip bring me? As we landed, I felt ready, ready to embark on the journey many people do not get the opportunity to. And for that, I felt lucky. We drove in separate buses to the Center and I had no idea what the week would bring. Fast forward 7 days later, being in those same buses, but with a completely different outlook on life. My thoughts on this bus ride and the flights following reflected on the innocent lives of 6 million people. 6 million. How could this happen? Who could do this? As Dr. Annamarie Orla-Bukowska mentioned, studying the Shoah only left me with more questions than answers.

As I saw my friends and family the weeks following our trip to Poland, I received the same questions, “How was Poland?” An answer to this question seemed almost impossible. I had two options: say it was good and move on, or educate others on the living memorial of the Shoah. I explained to many of them the tragedies I saw, the wonderful people I had met, and the effect the trip had on my own life. I could no longer be a bystander to the ignorant and hateful views of people around me. I could no longer sit quietly when I heard someone being mistreated. I have a voice that must be heard. The Shoah was real, it affected real people, and caused real pain and suffering on innocent lives. This is not something we shall forget, but something we shall remember indefinitely.

Dr. Annamaria Orla-Bukowska, a professor from the Institute of Sociology at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland, spoke at Iona College on April 16th for the “William H. Donat Shoah Commemoration Teaching the Holocaust Where It Happened” event. Although we had already traveled to Poland, this presentation taught me even more about my experience and studies in Jewish-Christian Relations. Born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, Dr. Annamaria Orla-Bukowska traveled to Poland to learn more about her Polish heritage and the tragedies that occurred under the Nazi Regime. As she became integrated in the Polish culture, she found herself with more questions than answers in her field of study. Eventually, she moved to Poland fulltime to fulfill her passion for the Holocaust and it’s living memorial. Dr. Annamarie Orla-Bukowska’s dedication to the memory of the Shoah is something we should all look up to as students in Jewish-Christian relations. Like she said during her speech, we must use the Holocaust as a lens to other issues that can occur in the world.

Memorial site at the Plaszow labor camp in Krakow, Poland.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Finding The Good, Amidst The Awful

Upon returning from Poland, many people have asked me questions about my experience and what I took away from the class and the trip. Some questions that always seems to pop up from time to time are questions about if the trip was sad or if it was depressing to see Auschwitz. At first it was difficult to answer these questions, not because I did not know what to say, but because of the shear amount of information and history that is behind each word, picture, and thought about the Holocaust. Although our time spent in Poland was physically and emotionally draining at points, I left our experience with a new outlook and understanding on the Shoah and the importance of seeing the hope that could be found amidst the tragedy.

A statue of Saint Pope John Paul II, located between his childhood home and the church he was baptized in.

During our time abroad we had opportunities to see the beautiful parts of Poland such as Wadowice. We visited Saint Pope John Paul II’s childhood home where I couldn’t help but be inspired by his life and his faith in God. As I reflect on the experiences now, after returning it is easy to overlook the inspiration that has come from Saint Pope John Paul II.

“I plead with you--never, ever give up on hope, never doubt, never tire, and never become discouraged. Be not afraid.” These words spoken by Saint Pope John Paul II hold incredible truth to his advocacy towards those who were murdered just miles away from his childhood home at Auschwitz. As part of his attempt to commemorate and remember the deaths of those who were murdered in the Shoah, he gave a speech at Yad Vashem, the official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, located in Jerusalem. His speech mirrored the points made in the Nostra Aetate about promoting unity and honoring the memory of the Shoah. The theme of remembrance is found throughout both writings as well as the explanation of Jewish- Christian relations post World War II. Saint Pope John Paul II, used his platform to effectively advocate and be aware of the destruction that occurred in his home land. He is someone who brought goodness to the most awful of situations.

Our time in Poland consisted of 2 days walking the ground of Auschwitz I. I must admit the first day was very overwhelming, it didn’t feel real to walk on ground where millions were tortured and killed mainly due to what they believed. Religion has always been a large part of my life, which is why I was interested in the story of Maksymilian Kolbe, a Polish, Franciscan priest who fell victim to the Holocaust and was killed at Auschwitz. Kolbe was a Catholic friar who made the conscious choice to remain in the monastery after the war started. At the monastery, which was used as a make-shift hospital he continued to publish religious works for citizens during the war until he was arrested in 1941. During his time spent at Auschwitz (as prisoner number 16670) he was tortured and beaten for staying true to his faith.

During role call one morning the SS officers realized that a prisoner was missing. Due to the prisoner’s collective responsibility, they were punished and ten innocent people were sentenced to death by starvation. One of the people was a man named Franciszek Gajowniczek, who upon being called out began to cry out to his family. Immediately Kolbe, approached the SS officers and asked to take the man’s place. Kolbe was sentenced to death in place of the man, who ended up surviving Auschwitz and the Holocaust.

A plaque located on Block 14, the location where Maksymilian Kolbe stood up to the Nazi’s to take the place of a prisoner who was sentenced to death.

Kolbe demonstrated incredible faith and goodness up until his death in July 1941. We had the opportunity to visit the cell that Maximilian Kolbe was prisoner in for the 2 weeks with no food. Still during the most difficult points of his life, he managed to comfort fellow prisoners and hold mass and pray the rosary with others. Even at the moment of his death he exhibited grace and compassion, which is why Pope John Paul II canonized him as a saint. In the words of Father Manfred, “The Nazis may have killed him, but they could not kill his love.” He is someone who has allowed me to see the goodness of people throughout the worst of what humanity can bring.

This cell is where Maksymilian Kolbe spent 2 weeks suffering from dehydration and starvation until he was eventually killed by lethal injection.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Presence of Absence and the Absence of Presence

The concept of the presence of absence and the absence of presence has been touched upon numerous times throughout the course Memory and Reconciliation: The Churches and the Holocaust. When pertaining to the Shoah, often people are aware that this devastation of a community occurred, but the discussion on how to move forward is lacking.

Ghetto Heroes Square in Krakow

The above photo was taken in Ghetto Heroes Square in Krakow. The Square contains an installation of thirty-three cast iron and bronze chairs. This memorial was resurrected in memory of the Polish Jews of Krakow that were imprisoned and murdered in the Krakow ghetto and German death camps during World War II. The chairs signify both the presence and absence of life. A standard, household object, typically filled with a living being stands empty for the rest of time. The Shoah took the lives of so many, leaving an emptiness in their place.

I found this memorial especially moving due to its location. The chairs were scattered out in the center of a busy market square. It has been over seventy years since the end of World War II, yet hundreds of people will pass this memorial every day and think for even just a moment about the weight of the lives lost. I believe this acknowledgement is an important factor in the recognition and prevention of such a tragedy never happening again.

Imagery seen such as Ghetto Heroes Square opens up an opportunity for dialogue on the topic. In a world where many may believe that since the Shoah ended, the time for discussion is over, memorials such as these go against this notion. To feel the presence of the absence of a community means that there are still emotions to be felt and words to be said on the subject. So, the absence of the presence of conversation is detrimental to the healing process.

In Poland, I had the privilege of meeting Fr. Manfred and listening to him lecture on different aspects of the Shoah. At the start of one of his lectures, he said “you cannot sit here and say you are for peace and do nothing” (Fr. Manfred, Center for Dialogue and Prayer). I believe this message should be shared in any situation where there are injustices occurring. It is so important to not become the bystander. Part of not being the bystander includes continuing the stream of dialogue. In order to end the absence of conversation, it is our responsibility to advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves or join them in solidarity.

Fr. Manfred also taught us that “we need to trust one another, which is difficult when history proves otherwise. It can only happen through conversation” (Fr. Manfred, Center for Dialogue and Prayer). This statement reiterates the significance of the introduction and continuation of communication. History has revealed that silence only strengthens adversities, so only through trust, acknowledgement, and reflection can reconciliation begin.

The presence of absence and absence of presence indicates a broken cycle in society. The memorial of chairs in Ghetto Heroes Square is a step to heal that brokenness through acknowledgement of the lives lost in the Shoah. The installation and Fr. Manfred’s words taught me the importance of having a voice, and using its power to advocate.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Deception

This picture shows the inside of one of the many Gas Chambers that were used during the Shoah.

This picture was taken in Auschwitz I. The moment I walked into this room I felt very cold and got a distinctive smell. This smell and taste of the Gas Chamber followed me all day for the next three days of this trip. I felt nauseous as I continued to “taste” this smell. As I walked in this room, all I could think was of those who marched into this room without knowing it was their last day. Many of them did not know what this room really was. They thought it was to take a “shower”. There was so much deception used into tricking them to walk without a fight into their death.

After going to Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II, Birkenau, we had a lecture with Father Manfield. He mentioned how the first victims of the Gas Chambers were not the Jews, but Germans who had a mental illness or a physical disability. Prior to hearing this, I thought that the Nazi would only hurt everyone who was not a German. I was very shocked to hear that they hurt even those who were from their same country. I thought they would glorify every German. This just made me angrier than I already was. How could anyone do this? My major is Psychology, and I hope to help those who have mental and physical disabilities. After seeing the gas chambers, and then hearing about this made me very scared of the control and influence one person can have on others.

In addition, I also learned how the Red Cross was used as a deception symbol. There was a building in Auschwitz II, Birkenau called “Red Cross.” Many of the victims who were weak and sick were tricked into thinking that they would be taken to the hospital to feel better. There would be a Red Cross symbol on the cart they were going to make them feel at ease that they were going to the hospital, but that was all a deception. The Red Cross was used to make the victims feel calm, and actually, believe they were going to get help. In this building, about 800 people would be brought in at a time.

Dehumanization

A picture of how the bunkers looked in the wooden barracks.

This week has been a very emotional week for me as well as everyone in my team. We read several different texts to learn more about the Shoah, but there is so much that the readings could not cover. The picture above is a picture of one of the barracks that is located in Auschwitz II, Birkenau. When I first saw this barrack, my first thought was how similar it looks to a horse stable. The tour guide later mentioned that this, in fact, was a horse stable that was meant for 50 horses. However, the Nazi had about 400 to 500 men in just this barrack. I could not even begin to imagine how so many individuals would fit in such a small barrack.

In this picture, you can see that the “beds” they slept in were bunks of three. The stronger and healthier prisoners climb to the top bunk. Those who were weaker slept on the lower bunks. Being in the lower bunk made the weaker get even weaker. If anyone above them leaked any unwanted liquid (such as urine, throw up and so on), this would fall onto the person below them. In addition, you can see that there was no floor built. What you see is the ground level. When it rained or snow, the floor will be cover with water since there was no foundation. This only made the conditions in which they lived in, even worse. During the winter it was very cold, and during the summer it was too hot. Due to these conditions they lived in, diseases spread quickly. Moreover, there were 10 prisoners per bed. That means that each bunk of three had a total of 30 individuals.

In class and during our guided tours, we discussed how much weight the victims of the Shoah had lost due to lack of nutrient. Due to the drastic weight loss, the Nazis were able to fit so many victims into one bed. In the novel called The Holocaust Kingdom, Donat mentioned how low the calorie intake was. “Germans in Warsaw allotted 2,500 calories a day…The Jews ratio came to less than 200 calories a day” (Page 7). Only letting them eat such a low number of calories is inhuman. A healthy person should consume at least 2,500 calories which was what they let the Germans consume. Since they saw the Jews as animals, they made sure they barely ate anything.

This picture shows where you would tie the horse in this barrack.

The Nazi saw the Jews and all of their prisoners as animals. The picture above shows how this barrack was supposed to be used for horses. It has the ring where you would tie your horse to. Moreover, the Nazi only allowed them to shower once a month and go to the bathroom twice a day. By doing this, it continued to take away the prisoners' humanity, treating them like animals. For Nazi, it was as if they were taking their “pet” to the bathroom. They did everything they could do to dehumanize them. This is just one of the many examples of how they dehumanize their victims.

In one of the lectures that we had with Father Manfred and Stan Ronell, we learned that those who were taken were not seen as humans. They were seen less than human. They were given numbers rather than names. Their heads were shaved. The goal of the Nazi was to dehumanize and strip them of their identity in every possible way. Their reasoning for this was that they wanted to blame someone for their failure, and who else to blame but the group who does not have a home of their own, the Jews. Their ideology for doing this was to “Make Germany, Great Again.” They “knew it was hard, but it has to be done.” If someone questioned doing such acts for women and children, they were told that if they did not do it, it would be their own family who would suffer.” That this was done to save their own family and Germany.”

From Judaism To Catholicism And Back Again

Friday morning, March 16, we traveled to Kraków to visit the Jewish Community Centre (JCC) of Kraków. It was there that we met Olga, who told us a little about herself and her Jewish ancestry. She also gave us information about the JCC itself, which is a Jewish cultural and educational centre that opened in 2008 as the result of an initiative by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. The JCC is the de facto Jewish visitors center for Kraków, Poland and provides social, educational, and community oriented services to the Jewish community of Kraków. After hearing from Olga, we got a chance to meet with a Jewish woman who survived World War II and she was kind enough to share her story with us. Although she herself had not been confined to a concentration camp, her father did perish at Auschwitz. She and her mother were forced to move to a new town after being blackmailed twice and it was there that she was baptized as a Catholic to hide her Jewish roots. After the war ended she eventually converted back to Judaism and went on to further her education, studying law and becoming a professor. Today she is an active member of the JCC in Kraków and was present for Shabbat dinner Friday evening at the JCC, a dinner in which we were also in attendance for.

Throughout this semester I have heard the personal stories of a few survivors of the Shoah but this story was the first in which the survivor converted to Catholicism in order to survive. Prior to meeting the survivor at the JCC, I had only encountered such a situation in Alexander Donat’s The Holocaust Kingdom: the author and his wife had decided to smuggle their son Wlodek out of the ghetto and sent him to the home of Stefan and Maria Magenheim, friends of the family. Before doing so, however, Wlodek’s parents had to prepare him for life on the Aryan side where he could no longer be Jewish: “Lena had, in the interim, been teaching Wlodek the Catholic prayers. ‘Now remember’, she told him, ‘you have never lived in the Ghetto and you must never use the word Ghetto. You’re not a Jew. You’re a Polish Catholic...We were bitterly aware of the tragic spectacle of a mother teaching her only child to disavow his parents, his people, his former life…” (Donat, 114-115).

A few weeks after Wlodek’s arrival at the Magenheim home, they were betrayed by one of their neighbors. With the help of Magdalena Rusinek, a seventeen-year-old member of the Polish Underground who collected, cared for and escorted Jewish children to their places of refuge with Polish families or in convents, Wlodek was brought to an orphanage near Otwock, Poland, where he remained for two years. During that period, Maria would come to the orphanage whenever she could, bringing Wlodek cakes and other delicacies. Although Wlodek was safe by being away from his parents and denouncing his Jewish heritage, during his time away he was brainwashed by the nuns at the orphanage. In his own words, Wlodek explains in The Holocaust Kingdom that “Miss Krysia told me that Jews were very bad. They drank the blood of Catholics on their holidays. They kill a young boy or girl, suck out their blood and put it in jars…she said if Auntie Maria tried to take me back to my Mommy, I should run away to the woods. I prayed that my parents would not come back for me. I believed in Jesus very much.” (Donat, 302). To think that a nun would say these things to a child is unimaginable but it occurred and wasn’t uncommon.

Wlodek 's parents both survived the Shoah and were reunited with their son and although the reunion was rocky at first, with Wlodek’s mind full of anti-Semitic thoughts, he eventually returned to the religion of his family. Although Wlodek and the survivor we heard speak at the JCC had different stories, both accounts had one thing in common, which is the title of this blog: from Judaism to Catholicism and back again. This is what it took to survive the horrors of the Shoah but this approach did not always work. Luckily for Wlodek and the JCC survivor, however, it did and we were lucky enough to hear their stories.

Pictured here is the JCC survivor (green sweater) sitting next to Olga.