In Poland – in the lands where prior to World War II there lived over three million Jews, and where for centuries, until the Holocaust, there flourished the religious and cultural life of one of the largest, and later even the largest, Jewish population in the world - today, according to official data, there remains only a few thousand Jews.
No one knows, however, the number of people who now, more than sixty years after the Shoah, are slowly discovering their Jewish roots that sometimes were hidden from them by their Holocaust-survivor parents or grandparents. These people, often very young, seek knowledge about their ancestors, their history, their culture, and particularly their value system – indeed, first and foremost, about their religion.
They seek knowledge of Judaism.
The goal of Hitler and the Nazis was the destruction and annihilation of Jews and their religion. For many Jews the experience of the Holocaust shook their faith. After all, the consequences of being Jewish then stood as death. As Rabbi Joseph Telushkin writes in Jewish Literacy, “I know of Holocaust survivors who baptized their children as Christians, and tried to hide from them the knowledge of their Jewish background. Other Jews have concluded that a God who would allow a holocaust to happen either does not exist or is not worthy of being obeyed. They, too, feel that as a result of the Holocaust, it is not worth living as a Jew.”
The Jewish philosopher, Emil Fackenheim, realized the tragic irony resulting from such thinking: Jews, by rejecting their Jewishness and by turning their back on Judaism, continue the realization of Hitler’s plans. By rejecting their Judaism through assimilation, they are in effect fulfilling Hitler’s desires posthumously. So Fackenheim formulated a call, which he named the 614th commandment - an addendum to the 613 laws of the Torah – “not to grant Hitler posthumous victories.” As Rabbi Telushkin asserts about Jewish reaction to Fackenheim’s reasoning, "Hitler wanted to destroy the Jews, they reason, and even if one has doubts and uncertainties about Judaism, even if one feels angry at God, even if one fears that antisemitism might someday triumph again, one must live as a Jew. To do otherwise would be to allow the antisemites to win. In other words, to complete Hitler's work.”
But a person who wants to live as a Jew, or who at least wants to make an educated appraisal of their religious way of life, must first and foremost have access to information. He must have access to knowledge.
Access to such knowledge is not as available everywhere as it is in Israel or the United States, where all it takes is to make a decision where to obtain access. In Poland, where a few thousand Jews are spread out amongst a population of nearly forty million Christians, gaining access is in fact quite difficult.