A native of Patchogue, L.I., Rabbi Michael Schudrich has worked overseas much of his adult life. The chief rabbi of Poland since 2000, he earlier served with the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation there, and also worked in Japan. In Poland, he is a witness to the Jewish community’s post-communist revival. In Forest Hills recently to deliver the 27th annual Willi and Hanni Horowitz Memorial Lecture at the Central Queens Y, he spoke about “thousands and thousands” of Poles discovering their Jewish roots, the role of the late Pope John Paul II in reducing Polish anti-Semitism, and the effort to repair Jewish cemeteries throughout the country.
Q: A prominent Israeli rabbi recently advised that no Jews should go to Poland, and no school
groups should go there, because it’s a land of “Nazi collaborators.” How’s that playing in Warsaw?
A: Not too many people heard about it — it didn’t make it into the mainstream press.
For those people who heard about it, it was hurtful. It’s simply a falsification of history to say that all Poles were collaborators. That is something that we as Jews should be very sensitive to.
The Polish schools are introducing a new curriculum about Jewish history to combat anti-Semitism among young people. If there is “no anti-Semitism in Poland” — as the government or representatives of Poland often claim — why is this new curriculum needed?
They’re introducing Jewish culture into the school system because Jews played an important role in Poland.
Nobody said there’s no anti-Semitism in Poland. I said the level of anti-Semitism is on the unacceptable standard level of [Western] Europe.
A fund-raising campaign is under way to restore the crumbling infrastructure at Auschwitz. How important for the historical record is an intact Auschwitz death camp?
Auschwitz is the place where the greatest number of Jews were murdered in the history of humankind just because of the fact they were Jewish. There’s an obligation on us to remember that; there’s a greater obligation for the non-Jewish world to remember that; the greatest obligation falls on the descendants of the people of that nation who perpetrated that genocide.
I see the preservation of Auschwitz as a moral obligation of every human being.
Do you ever pinch yourself when you see the extent of the Jewish renaissance?
Much more than pinching myself, I sometimes try to pinch others … to remind them, when people get frustrated, how far we have come.
What is essential for the nurturing of the re-emerging Jewish community is support of Jews from around the world. Philanthropist Ted Taube, born in Poland but already in the U.S. 70 years, is an exemplary model.
When will Poland have a Polish-born chief rabbi?
Some people think I’ve already been born in Poland, I’ve been there so long.
I fully anticipate that the next chief rabbi of Poland will be born in Poland. Success will be when I am replaced by a Polish-born rabbi.