A Search For Jewish Identity in Contemporary Poland

Who Will Say Kaddish?

In 1995 I ventured into Poland with the writer Larry Mayer. I was looking to change my life, become a true photojournalist and explore the homeland of my grandparents (and 1 uncle). Mayer was looking to come to grips with the homeland of his Holocaust survivor parents and many personal issues attached to that. We were both thinking it might be nice if we could publish an article, or maybe even a book, documenting what we found.

In the spring of 1998, the biannual meeting of PUSZ (pronounced poosh) was held in the southern mountain resort town of Zakopane. These gatherings are another way for Poland's newer Jews to become acquainted, and foster a larger sense of community.

Przemek Szpilman

Playing the guitar is Przemek "Yisroel" Szpilman. I met Przemek on one of my first days in Poland in 1995. Both of his parents are practicing Catholics, but at fourteen he discovered his mother's father was the President of the Jewish Community in Katowice. After spending a year at an American yeshiva, Szpilman received formal conversion in 1993 and was circumcised "just to be sure." Ironically, he met his Catholic fiancée Marta, at the Jewish summer camp in Rychwald. She too plans to convert, and they hope to start a Jewish home together in Poland.

Mateusz Koz As far back as I can remember, I knew I was Jewish. But I grew up with no religion." Thirteen years ago when Kos became the first Bar Mitzvah in post-war Poland, he became an instant celebrity. He continued to play an integral part in the Jewish community, leading groups of tourists through the Jewish sites of Warsaw, living in an apartment adjacent to the Nozyk Synagogue. Unlike many Polish Jews he has managed to integrate well into both the Polish and Jewish communities. "My nationality is Jewish, my citizenship is Polish and my religion is Judaism. They are all equally important. I cannot be just Jewish. I love this country and I don't want to move anywhere else - I am a Polish Jew.
   - Mateusz Kos, Warsaw

Larry Mayer visited Poland several times before coming to me with his initial idea. After doing much research we changed the crux of the story from the "last" Jews of Poland to the "new" Jews of Poland. About two months after our first conversation I found myself in the midst of Jewish Poles young and old in a retreat in southern Poland, observing the Sabbath and following a strict Kosher diet for the first time in 20 years.


I spent 2 months there in 1995 and returned in 1998 for another 6 weeks to continue photographing and to see how things had changed. Although I never felt the work was truly complete I am happy with the tangible results of my foray into photo-documentary. Turning myself into a journalist changed my life in ways I cannot exactly explain. Having the chance to know the land of my ancestors in this way was to live a dream I never knew I had. It will always be part of me.

For additional details please contact me.

Other web sites about Jewish Genealogy, the Jewish Community of Poland and more-- I am just beginning this part of the site - more to come soon!

Martin Gilbert Cover Also available, two photographs from Who Will Say Kaddish? are featured in The Jews In The Twentieth Century: An Illustrated History by Martin Gilbert

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