Hidden Heritage: A Jewish Awakening in Krakow
A documentary by Slawomir Grünberg
This feature documentary film is about the remarkable revival of Jewish life in Krakow, Poland, seen through the eyes of Polish citizens who, against all odds, have re-discovered their connections to Judaism.
Krakow, the second largest city in Poland, was traditionally a leading center of Polish academic and cultural life, and of Jewish life since the 12th Century. Before World War II, over 60,000 people, one fourth of Krakow’s population, were Jewish, and there were at least 90 active synagogues in Krakow. After Nazi Germany invaded Poland in 1939, the Jewish residents of Krakow were forced into a ghetto and later sent to Auschwitz concentration camp and Belżec extermination camp. Ultimately over three million Polish Jews were killed in the Holocaust, over 90% of Poland’s Jewish population. Less than 6,000 Jews in Krakow were estimated to have survived. Of those, many left Poland and moved to the United States and Israel. Others departed after facing post-war Anti-Semitism. In 1968, under Communist rule, half of Poland’s entire remaining Jewish population were stripped of citizenship and forced out of the country. Of those who stayed, surviving Jewish children were often raised Catholic or not informed of their families’ Jewish heritage.
Against all odds, however, a remarkable revival of the Jewish community is now underway. In 2002, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales visited Krakow and learned of the need for a gathering place for members of the Krakow Jewish community. On his return to London, Prince Charles met with World Jewish Relief (WJR), a London-based charity. With his support and patronage, The Prince of Wales Jewish Community Centre (JCC) of Krakow opened in 2008. “I think it’s really miraculous what’s going on in Krakow,” says Jonathan Ornstein, who has been the executive director of the JCC of Krakow since it opened. “Young people are finding out that they have Jewish roots, that their families hid during the communist era that followed World War II…They are choosing to get involved, to build this Jewish future with others who grew up in Poland but only recently discovered their background.” According to Ornstein, “Our primary purpose is to welcome people with Jewish roots back into the Jewish world.” This includes the woman Ornstein met in Krakow and recently married. In 2017, the JCC of Krakow opened the first pluralistic Jewish nursery and pre-school for 10 children, another major milestone.