A Return to Polish Roots

March 19, 2015 by Roz Tarszisz
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According to filmmaker Simon Target, “it’s cool to be Jewish” in Poland today.

Target, a non-Jew, has worked and traveled extensively throughout Poland. He told J-Wire that if he were Jewish he would have been feted wherever he went.

Polish Consul Regina Jurkowska introduced the film to members of Sydney’s Polish and Jewish communities at a recent showing of A Town Called Brzostek, Target’s documentary about finding family roots in Poland. The film recently won top prize  at the Jewish Film Festival in Warsaw

Simon Target

Simon Target

(the prize won by IDA last year).

British academic, Jonathan Webber, an orthodox Jew, had visited Brzostek, the Polish town where his grandfather was born. Brzostek was once 30 percent Jewish and while there are none living there today, there is still a Jewish Street.

Webber is the first Jew the town’s priest, mayor and school principal have ever met.   When he located the town’s abandoned Jewish cemetery, he decided to rebuild it  – with the help of locals.

The film follows three Jewish families from Paris, New York and Sydney back to Brzostek.  Irving Wallach, a Sydney barrister, returns to meet the family of the woman who hid his mother during WW2. (See previously published story about Wallach’s discoveries.) http://www.jwire.com.au/sydney-barrister-aattends-grave-dedication-in-poland/

Target, a British/Australian filmmaker, has made a moving record of determination and acceptance.  One woman speaks about being present as a girl in Brzostek on the day her grandparents were shot by Germans in the town square.

As well as the cemetery reconstruction,, Webber erected a memorial in the nearby forest to mark the site of a mass grave for the Jews murdered there.

Webber, now resident in Krakow, close to Brzostek, reasons that he was the only Jew in his English village so he might as well be the only Jew in a Polish town and teaches Holocaust and Jewish Studies at Krakow University.  Target told J-Wire that Webber believes educating Poles about the Holocaust is a way, in Webber’s words, to “clear up the detritus”.

According to Target, Webber views Poland from a different moral standpoint to that usually taken by Jews of Polish background and would like Jews and Poles to be friends.

A large percentage of Ashkenazi Jewish families have Polish roots and most have no love for the country where their ancestors lived.   The film addresses modern Jewry’s antipathy towards everything Polish and raises the possibility of collective reconciliation.

One local  who typifies this view told J-Wire that the documentary had “opened a crack in my heart” on the subject.

Target makes the point that Poland was invaded, first by Germany and then by the Soviet Union and the country has only recently begun to emerge from its time warp. From a multicultural society prior to the war, it has been mono–cultural ever since.

A Town Called Brzostek will be shown at Auschwitz Jewish Centre later in March and Berlin Jewish Film Festival in May.  It deserves a wide audience with its positive message of hope, forgiveness and reconciliation.

Directed by Simon Target  50mins

In English and Polish with subtitles




One Response to “A Return to Polish Roots”
  1. Leon Poddebsky says:

    Jewish roots are not in Poland; they are in Mesopotamia and in The Land of Israel.
    To say otherwise is an oxymoron, a factually incorrect assertion….and an expression of misplaced and demeaning pathetic sentimentality.

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