A Surprising and Touching Inquiry into My Father’s Polish Past

As long-time readers know, my father Ben Zion Wacholder was born in Ozarow, Poland and survived the Holocaust, living in Germany with false papers hiding his Jewish identity.

A few months ago, we received an email from a man named Lukasz Rzepka, who wrote:

I’m a doctoral student of theology at The Pontifical University of John Paul II in Krakow, Poland. Two years ago I started course ‘Relationships between Christians and Jews’, that was exceptional experience for me. When I was young I was interested in the history of my city, the people who lived there, memories of the past. After my high school I removed to Krakow, that was about 10 years ago. Now, again my youthful passions revived.

I was born in Ozarów (Ozerow), “a small Jewish town that was” like Hillel Adler wrote.

Today I have found memories by Ben Zion Wacholder on the website. Again, I wanted to share the history of my city with others. I decided to realize my childhood dream. I would like to prepare a book with memories of the Ozarow Jews. I would like to publish them in Polish with short biographies. Mainly for young residents of Ozarów and students. People there don’t know the history of this city well. I know that because I lived there for 19 years.

I would like to ask at the beginning if it would be possible for you to publish a translation of Ben Zion’s memories in Polish?

When Lukasz and I first began corresponding, he was preparing a talk at a conference on the Jews of the area. I asked to see the link to the conference schedule. Despite the Polish description, I saw the listing for a twenty-minute talk about Ben Zion Wacholder. Lukasz peppered me with questions about my father’s biography, many of which I could not answer easily, and asked me to provide a picture of my father, to which I happily agreed.

Since then, Lukasz has kept me up to date on his research and we connect almost daily. For instance, he has found records regarding my family in both Jewish and secular archives. Below are my paternal father’s birth certificate and residence records of my father and his siblings:

birth record Pinchas Shalom Wacholder

Birth certificate of my paternal grandfather, Pinchas Shlomo Wacholder

Polish birth records Wacholder

Residence record mentioning my grandparents Pinchas Shlomo and Fayga Lederman Wacholder, and their four children: Sara Hendel, Ben Zion, Aaron, and Ruchla Shifra

He has written a proposal for a series of pamphlets on the Jews of the area, to be called BOZnica (synagogue). BOZ stands for “Biblioteka Ozarowa Zydowskiego,” or the Ozarow Jewish Library. The first installment will be a Polish translation of the two chapters of my father’s memoir, “The Night Before the Hurban of Ozarow,” and “Alone.” You can find the original English at the website maintained by my niece Shifra Goldenberg. Unfortunately, the continuation of the memoir lost when my father’s computer was stolen in the 1980’s.

Despite the controversy in Poland over Holocaust research and education, Lukasz has secured funding from both Jewish and non-Jewish sources. Last week my family granted him the translation rights to the memoir, in which my father describes the town during the war, parting from his family, and his escape as the sole survivor of the Nazi liquidation of the Jews of Ozarow.

We are happy to see that BOZnica is getting off the ground. Lukasz has secured the majority of the needed funding from both Jewish and non-Jewish sources, including his university and the Polish Jewish Historical Institute. There clearly exists a significant segment of Poles who wish to acknowledge the history of the Jews in Poland with honesty and integrity, and repair relations between the Jews and the Polish people.

Speaking for my living sister and brother, and I am sure for my brother Sholom of blessed memory who maintained a keen interest in the family history, we are so touched that a non-Jewish stranger from real-life Ozarow would take such an interest in our father and the rest of the Ozarow community. It feels like my father and his family and neighbors are reaching out to us from the past, to tell us and the Polish people about the rich Jewish world that was lost in Poland and in Ozarow.

You can follow the Facebook page for updates on the BOZnica project.

Comments

  1. Shoshanna Sanders says:

    Beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Heartwarming to see this interest. The atrocities will always remain. But I have been touched by some my encounters with young Germans determined to repair what they can. I am looking forward to future installments

  3. Donna Ron says:

    Very interesting and very nice for you and your family I think. Was Ozarow in Galicia?
    The International Jewish Geneology Conference in being held in August in Warsaw.

  4. What a wonderful moving story. Kol hakavod to this young man, and to you and your family for maintaining your father’s history.

  5. Thanks for sharing. There are 2 parts to the story. The second story is what your family have done since – especially here in Israel , a story which is built on the foundations of the first story. When you read the 2 stories together it certainly gives me hope for the future

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