I’m a Jew. I Had No Idea I’d be Spending Christmas Among Neo-Nazis

Picture of a Jewish necklace, with the Hebrew word for "Alive," touching the Birkenau gate.

By Published on January 10, 2018

The bus creaked along a worn-out road as I stared at the Polish countryside, happy to be sitting. Our group had spent a long day walking the winding paths of the Jewish Quarter in Krakow.

I didn’t notice the bus was slowing until it had come to a stop. The driver announced our bus had broken down, and people around me slung bags and backpacks over their shoulders. We made our way back into the night and hugged our bodies as we trudged along the route to our motel.

“Nazi! Nazi! Nazi!” a group of men yelled at us. They greeted us with sieg heil salutes, and we put our heads down and hurried across a bridge.

I expected the blistering cold and the horrific Holocaust sites. I did not expect open anti-Semitism.

As a Jew, I truly had no idea that I would be spending Christmas among neo-Nazis. Our group was filled with Jewish students and young adults on an educational trip “focusing on the Holocaust experience in Poland.” In the span of seven days, we visited the German death camps Majdanek, Auschwitz and Birkenau, as well as Jewish ghettos in Warsaw, Krakow and Lodz.

I expected the blistering cold and the horrific Holocaust sites. I did not expect open anti-Semitism. In fact, there was commerce around it.

On the morning before our bus broke down, we’d arrived at a plaza with a marketplace in the Jewish Quarter. There was an enclave of small stands with a wide variety of merchandise. While looking through the wares on a table, a merchant held out a button and urged me to buy it. My eyes focused on a swastika. I told the man in Polish that I was Jewish and the pin was extremely offensive. In response, he shooed me away from his table.

While stopping in souvenir shops in Krakow the next day, we found a wide variety of demeaning merchandise depicting Jewish people. Figurines of Jewish men with large noses and coins glued to their body, magnets depicting Jews as beggars, and a wooden paddle of a Jewish man who will guard your money are some of the anti-Semitic items we encountered in the market.

A Jewish good luck charm to guard one’s money found in the Krakow marketplace.

A Jewish good luck charm to guard one’s money found in the Krakow, Poland, marketplace.

Magnets featuring Jews as beggars at the Krakow marketplace.

Magnets featuring Jews as beggars at the Krakow, Poland, marketplace.

The visit to the marketplace was jarring, but the anti-Semitism we encountered was tame compared to what we would ultimately come across. As we headed back from Shabbat service in the Jewish quarter, a young man attacked Moti Leibman, a former IDF combat solider. We had only returned from Auschwitz-Birkenau a few hours earlier, underscoring the surreal nature of the whole experience.

“I felt a sharp kick in my back right as I finished tying my shoe. I stood up confused, and all I could mutter was ‘what?’,” Leibman said.

The man that kicked me turned around, walked straight to me and without saying a single thing, punched me straight in the face. Shocked, I was ready to fight back and defend myself, but as I lifted my hand, this guy was held back by his friends, six men, and I had a perfect shot. In half a second, I realized, run.

Down the same street, a passerby shoved and cursed at the wife of a rabbi and told her to leave the country. Our traveling security had the evening off for Shabbat, but there were plenty of onlookers. No one took any steps to help us.

The next day students from the trip asked security to notify authorities, but they told us that from past experience, they didn’t believe our concerns would be taken seriously. Being foreigners on a short trip, we didn’t pursue the issue further.

“I am not surprised that anti-Semitism is still prevalent and strong in Poland, but I am surprised the this occurred in the radius of the Jewish Quarter where there is a police station, and no one around seemed to care,” said Leibman.

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Later that week, we traveled to the Jewish Ghetto in Lodz, 75 miles from Warsaw. Nazis forced 160,000 Jews to live in the area in 1940, while waiting for deportation. Over 70,000 Jews were deported to the Chelmno extermination camp in 1942. The surviving Jewish residents in the ghetto were then deported to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Death Camp in 1944.

Despite the horrific history, the Jewish ghetto still faces anti-Semitism. The picture below is a small building with the name of the Lodz soccer team, ŁKS, spray-painted on it. Over the team name is graffiti of circumcised penises, cross-outs, and Jewish stars. The team is associated with Jews due to the rich Jewish history in the area.

Vandalized property at the Jewish ghetto in Lodz, Poland.

Vandalized property at the Jewish ghetto in Lodz, Poland.

The trip was a chance for us to better understand the Holocaust — to try to understand something so incomprehensible. It turned out to be a glimpse of what Jews suffered on a daily basis.

Such a difficult yet revealing experience conjured a variety of emotional reactions from the group. For many, it was a way to connect with relatives lost to the Holocaust. For others, it taught them that anti-Semitism can even be found in a country that bore the brunt of Nazism. It was, at least for me, the first time I’d ever felt nervous and frightened to be Jewish. For most of the attendees, the trip gave them a stronger, more meaningful connection to Judaism.

“When I visited Israel before, I felt connected to Judaism as a religion. But in Poland, I really felt the connection to my heritage, said Sam Barak, a Mechanical Engineering Ph.D. student at the University of Central Florida. “All four of my grandparents are from this Poland/Belarus area. I could picture my ancestors living on the same ground I walked not even 100 years ago. I could feel what it must have been like for my extended family walking at the same train tracks at Birkenau.”

I could sense the horror, the shock and the misery, and walk in my ancestors’ footsteps, at least for a second.

“The trip was as expected — sad and depressing. But the group we traveled with really supported each other. Dov, an Auschwitz survivor who had joined us on this trip, had the largest smile of them all. Just living and loving life made us all happy,” Barak said.

“Even with the Nazis trying to erase the Jewish race, we survived,” he added.

Another student said the trip stirred up pride in both herself and her history. “As someone who travels a lot, this is the first time I have ever really felt a purpose in my journey. I have never been more proud of who I am and where I come from,” Rachel Kessler, a student at Santa Monica College, said.

Twenty feet from the electric wire fences of Majdanek is a housing development. From a window in the gas chamber, you can see Christmas advertisements in the distance. A statue from the Third Reich looms over the death camp, and a mausoleum called the “Mountain of Ashes” overlooks the city that lies down the hill. You can sense the horror, the shock and the misery, and walk in your ancestors’ footsteps, at least for a second.


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Send tips to gabrielle@dailycallernewsfoundation.org.

Copyright 2018 Daily Caller News Foundation

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  • “I’m a Jew! You’re not allowed to offend me!”
    If (any group) doesn’t adapt to the local culture, and don’t consider themselves to be locals instead of being (any group), despite having lived there for multiple generations, then why should they expect acceptance and tolerance from the locals? Nobody likes a bunch of foreigners living in their land.

    • ImaginaryDomain

      Wow…this is your take away from this story?

      • Lalala Poopoo

        What is your take then?

      • Yes. Yes it is. Thank you for noticing.

  • tz1

    Note that nowhere does the author ask “Why?”. It is assumed that it is irrational bigotry. But note that no non-Jewish pole dresses in black suits with hats with long forelocks. McChuck below notes that Jews don’t assimilate. Culturally or Legally. I’m in the USA. I dress like my regional fellows, not knowingly like anyone in my ancenstral homeland. I follow the Constitution, not whatever their laws were. I salute the US flag and say the Pledge of Alligence to it.

    70% of American Jews voted for Obama – twice. And they voted for Hillary. Force Christians to bake gay cakes. Let Transgenders use the wrong bathroom. Abortion on demand up to the point of birth. Porn on every screen.

    It is one thing to just assume “the Jews never did anything to offend anyone else”, but another to ask “Why did the Germans learn to hate us?”. Maybe they were Usurers during Weimar. Maybe they thrived while others starved – justified or not.

    Even St. Paul says the Jews are the enemies of Christians for the sake of the Gospel. That might be invisible and totally passive where they reatreat and do their rituals while we do ours, or it can be visible and active as when they promote having muslim refugees in small town America. Or when the secular members promote porn. Why do Jews not condemn the evil other Jews do? Harvey Weinstein?

    If Jews and Christians had a fellowship – and such exists, but with a small minority of Jews who ACTIVELY reject gay rights, pornography, abortion and the other maoral issues – there would be no problem.

    For Poland, perhaps the solution is to have the secular Jewish organizations bring a bunch of Muslim refugees that are rabidly anti-semetic, and place them right next to the Jewish (unassimilated, sigh) enclaves and see if selling insulting magnets is worse than what Syrian and Somali and other radical Muslims will do – ask Paris where the Rabbis are telling Jews to move to Israel.

    Where is Israel and Jews screaming at Europe to deport those rapefugee muslims? Where are the US Jews worrying about the multiculturalism that is really anti-Semetic? Or are they too busy attacking Trump to notice he kept the promise to move the embassy to Israel.

    Jews seem to be ingrates. Catholics hid many Jews many at the direction of ST. Pius and we get The Servant and Hitler’s pope. Then there are the neocons. Again, Jews won’t call out other Jews. At some point the thankless abuse heaped upon Gentiles, while other Jews exploit or stand aside as an effect. Maybe not all Jews, but not all Poles are Nazis either, yet that is all you focus on in the article exclusively – there are no good Poles worth mentioning?. It is similarly easy for Poles not to see the Jews on their side when many elites are trying to force socialism and immigrants onto them.

    I said you didn”t ask “why?”. My reply is at least part of the answer, or should bring up more questions – whether I like or agree with the situation or not.

    • Adelle

      Oh! My! I also am not Hebrew, but why is it ever OK for individuals to be treated so thoroughly disrespectfuly just because of who they are? There are many other classes of people who are different than we are but we write laws to protect their dignity. If you have ever had a child who was ridiculed for something he or she couldn’t change and see the emotional pain in their eyes and hear it in their voice, you have to know that pushing other people down is not right. God help us all.

      • tz1

        To throw it right back at you,
        Why is it ever OK for Nazis to be treated so thoroughtly disrespectfully [original sic] just because of who they are?

        We in the USA have aborted 60 million innocent babies because they were merely inconvenient, not because of anything they were or done, so don’t bother telling me. I’ve been trying to stop the ABORTION HOLOCAUST for over 40 years, but I can’t remember a single Jew who has joined in the cause except Bernard Nathanson but he wrote the essay that caused Roe V Wade to be passed though later repented.

        What about the child that was never ridiculed because their mother aborted them?

        No one cares about the unborn because they will never visit the death camps they are aborted in. People like George Tiller that literally had more innocent blood on his hands than Osama will be lauded – or ignorned.

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