What Happens When a Neo-Nazi Couple Discovers it is Jewish?
A young Polish couple, formerly associated with Warsaw's neo-Nazi gangs, was at the center of a recently aired CNN documentary which revealed their path from fanatic anti-Semitism to worshiping in an Orthodox synagogue.
Ola and Pawel and their two children are a happily married Jewish couple. But several years ago they were both anti-Semites, unaware of their own personal ties to Judaism. It was only after Ola vaguely recalled a conversation she had with her mother when she was 13, that she decided to look into her roots and discovered the secret that had been hidden from her, a secret which many Poles who remained in the county after WWII, hid from society and oftentimes, even their children.
"I was around 13 and there was some sort of conversation between me and my mother, I can't remember the reason, but it was mentioned that I had Jewish roots. I wasn't interested in it at that time and let it go straight over my head," Ola said on the CNN documentary.
At around that time, Ola and Pawel met in school. "It was love at first sight," described Ola. The couple did everything together - including joining the skinheads group in town. They soon became white supremacists, who believed that Poland was for Poles alone, and that Jews - among other minority groups - were at the root of all their problems.
"We were very rebellious youth,' Ola said in the CNN documentary."I wasn't directly involved in the skinhead unit, but I had friends. It's hard for me to talk about it as there are certain decisions that one takes as a young person that one would not like to remember. I can't be embarrassed, it my life, but it's not something I'm proud of."
Yet a brief inquiry in Poland's Jewish Historical Institute revealed that her mother's hints at their Jewish ties were true. Not only did Ola have Jewish roots: she herself was Jewish.
Ola reveals in the documentary how she struggled with the idea of returning home to disclose her true religious identity to her neo-Nazi husband. She was astounded to discover, after further investigation, that he too was Jewish.
"The journey which I started was not planned," Ola said, describing the shock and anger they both felt at learning that they were of the very people they had spent so many years actively hating. "I didn't know how to tell him. I loved him even if he was a punk or skinhead, if he beat people up or not. It was a time in Poland when this movement was very intense."
Pawel said he was angry and scared at what his new-found Judaism would mean for his life. They believed Jews had no place in Poland, and suddenly this applied to him. "I was a nationalist 100%," Pawel said. "Back then when we were skinheads it was all about white power and I believed Poland was only for Poles. That Jews were the biggest plague and the worst evil of this world. At least in Poland it was thought this way as at the time anything that was bad was the fault of the Jews..." he said.
Yet their discovery turned out to be a source of mutual growth and transformation. The two began educating themselves about Judaism and eventually joined the Orthodox Synagogue in Warsaw.
"I remember them coming here, as a young couple, looking pretty lost, and at some point, I don't remember exactly when, I heard about their story," Poland's Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich said in the documentary.
Pawel recalled how he turned to the rabbi for help in understanding how to come to terms with his new identity. "I came here to the rabbi and said, "listen, they are telling me I'm a Jew, I have this document in my hand, my mom and dad have said something. Who is this Jew and what is it? Help me because I am going to lose my mind otherwise.'"
The couple now lives active lives in the Jewish community, Pawel is studying to work in kosher slaughterhouse and Ola works as a kashruth supervisor.
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