Bringing light to Poland's Holocaust past

  • October 16, 2009
{mosimage}TORONTO - During the early 1980s, in her teen years, Sr. Anna Bodzinska began to learn that history in Poland wasn’t told quite the way it happened. 

The extent of the atrocities of the Second World War, the treatment of Jews in Poland and Christian-Jewish relations were suppressed to suit the communist ideology of the day. But now Canadians will get to hear from Bodzinska about the initiatives for restoration and understanding taking place today.

Bodzinska, a Sister of Our Lady of Sion in Poland, will join the roster of nearly a hundred speakers and performers at the 29th Holocaust Education Week Nov. 1-11 in Toronto. She will speak on Christian-Jewish relations in Poland Nov. 4, 7:30 p.m., at St. Gabriel’s parish.

“There are a thousand reasons why the topic of Christian-Jewish relations is important for all of us,” Bodzinska told The Catholic Register from Krakow. “For the presentation, I would like to speak about all that has happened in Poland in the past 20 years that demonstrates the work between Poles and Jews.”

The process of finding the truth began for Bodzinska as a young student, when a history teacher encouraged students “if they were interested in learning more” about the war and other events in recent history to ask their grandparents. Curious, Bodzinska did just that, and was told by her grandparents that her teacher obviously didn’t want to lose her job — or worse, risk being jailed — but still wanted her class to know the truth of Poland’s history.

“A lot of things were hidden, although the knowledge was there among families,” Bodzinska said. “After our liberation (from communism) in 1989, we said that we have to change the history books.”

Before the Holocaust, Poland had one of the largest Jewish populations, whereas today Judaism is one of its smallest religions. In decades that followed her first searches, Bodzinska would learn about what individuals did to secretly help Jews in Poland. She also witnessed people discovering their previously unknown Jewish heritage.

“It’s the new generations of youth who want to know the work that has been done and who are asking who they are and what it means to be Jewish.” 

Among other things, Bodzinska plans to talk about current initiatives and collaborations between Christians and Jews unique to Poland, like a three-day event where Christians and Jews will celebrate “the joy of the Torah” to promote understanding of the faith traditions.

“The Jewish life is experiencing a re-birth and many Christians are convinced that it really gives life to their faith to know the roots — (the Jewish people) are our older brothers in the faith.”

Sr. Anne Denise Rinckwald, also a Sister of Sion in Krakow, will speak about how several of their Sister houses in France, Belgium and Italy helped save Jews during the war.

Mary Siklos, co-ordinator of the week, suggests people might also want to check out a presentation to be held at 10 a.m. that same day at Kingsway-Lambton United Church with Susanna Kokkonen, an expert in Holocaust studies who initiated a program to help Christians better understand the roots of the Holocaust and to confront modern anti-Semitism.

See or call (416) 631-5689.

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