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Lech Kaczynski, the president of Poland, died in a plane crash on April 10th along with 96 members of Polish political elite. Their deaths’ presents a huge loss to the Polish-Jewish relationship.

Lech Kaczynski was a man of many firsts. He was the first Polish president to celebrate Chanuka at the presidential palace. In 2005, before winning the presidency, he donated land and money to establish the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, to open in -Warsaw in 2012. He upgraded military, economic and cultural cooperation between the state of Israel and Poland. Most importantly, his philosophy towards Jews trickled down from the heads of government to district and county leaders to small Polish villages that today are frequented by Jewish pilgrims regularly. He restored citizenships to 15,000 Jews exiled in 1968 by the Communists. He was among Poland’s top supporters of Israel.

On the day of the horrific plane crash President Kaczynski and his elite staff were on their way to commemorate the massacre of 22,000 Polish prisoners of war at Katyn in 1940. Most of the murdered prisoners were officers. Among them was the Polish army’s chief rabbi and about 2000 Jewish prisoners. The Soviet war crimes which were covered up by the Communist regime have just come to light through the efforts of the Kaczynski government. On Sunday, the day following the crash, Warsaw’s Nozik Synagogue was packed with mourners. A memorial service led by Rabbi Michael Schudrich was being held to remember the fallen leader and his cabinet. Among them singled out was Janusz Kurtyka , head of the National Remembrance Institute and Deputy Culture Minister, Tomasz Merta with whom Duvid Singer hade a personal relationship and attended many meetings and ceremonies with, acknowledging and admitting a new member to the illustrious group of Polish Righteous Among the Nations.

It is one of the great ironies of Polish history that a nationalistic, ultra conservative Catholic who may have counted anti Semites among his supporter, was the pivotal figure that was to bring about healing in a post Communist period that has divided Jews and Poles. The seeds of change that Lech Kacziynski sowed have taken roots and are not likely be crushed with his untimely death.

All over Poland cemeteries once in ruin are now being repaired and restored. Memorials are being erected for those who perished under the Nazi terror regime. Synagogues which once were left to fall into ruins are being restored by donors with matching funds from the Polish government.

Most recently, through the efforts of Rabbi Joel Halberstam, Mr Duvid Singer and Joel Jaworeski from Warsaw, the municipal Synagogue of Sanz where the Divray Chaim Davend, Blew Shofar, held drashos and more is in the process of negotiation for permanent return with government officials and a group under the leadership of the Chakover Ruv Rabbi Zalmen Halberstam and Reb. Duvid Singer

After 70 years, this year on the Yartzeit of the Divrei Chaim, Rabbi Chaim Halberstam who was the ruv in Sanz from 1830 to 1876, t’filos on the day of the yartzeit Friday and Shabbos and Rosh Choddesh benching took place within the holy walls of this once celebrated Makom Kadosh. The synagogue, which until recently was a Catholic museum, its walls covered by tzalumim and avodo zuros , has been returned to Jewish hands. It will eventually restored to its original purpose and it will continue to remain so. The melodious voices of baalei t’fila are once again being heard within the hallowed walls where the Divrei Chaim officiated. In the near future the management of the synagogue will open its doors to welcome visitors who will be able use the building as a Chasidish Bais Medrash.

The first historic account of Jewish presence in Sanz dates back to 1494 with Abraham, the ophthalmologist. By 1939 the Jewish population of Sanz was 25,000 jews one third of the inhabitants. At first the Town Council of Nowy Sanz fought against the settlement of Jews fearing economic competition. However, by 1650 gaining legal permits Jews began settling in large numbers in Sanz. Only wooden building were permitted to be constructed for Jewish use. In 1699 royal permission was granted for the construction of a brick synagogue. The actual construction of the Bais Medrash which began in 1746 and has two levels was finally completed 1780.

The Chasidic movement, which gained momentum in the 18th century, was well received in Nowy Sanz. Among the most noted Chasidic rabbis was Rabbi Chaim Halberstam, also known as the Divrei Chaim. He laid special stress on charity and ecstasy in prayer. As his fame spread Halachic inqueries came from all over the world from Chasidim and misnagdim, Chasidim from far and wide came to seek his council. The synagogue, built on Berka Joselewicza Street, was the only brick building among 20 other synagogues in Sanz. During the Nazi occupation it was used as a warehouse. By some miracle, although the Nazi headquarter was just a few blocks away the building was overlooked and spared during WWll. The extermination of the Jewish population of Sanz which began in Auschwitz saw the final liquidation of more than 10,000 in Belzec. Mass executions of Jews and Poles took place in the famous Bais Hachaim on Rybacka Street. Today one single Jew, Yankle Miller, claims to be the last remnant in this town, once the hub of Polish Jewry.

Nearly seventy years have passed since Sanz was made Judenrein. Sanz will never be what it once was. But changes are being made all over Poland. Centuries of Jewish presence, their history and culture are being taught to school children in Poland.

The government welcomes Jewish presence. As Jews. oppressed by Communism gain courage to identify themselves as such, the percentage of geirim and balei tsuvos from Poland is unprecedented.

The emotional and spiritual experience of the 55 people who attended this year’s Yahrtzeit of the Divrei Chaim on April 9 and 10th was indescribable. The t’filos were led by noted Sanzer einiklech: the Zmigroder rabbi, Rabbi Sinai Halberstam, the Chakover rebbe, Rabbi Zalman Halberstam, Rabbi Duved Berish Meisels, Satmerer Ruv of Boro Park and Rabbi Burech Halberstam, son of the Gribover Rebbe.

Rabbi Joel Halberstam arranged for a mikve. It is expected that a permanent mikve will be erected in the near future.

To be sure, there are bumps in the road to Polish-Jewish reconciliation. Certainly, there are those who claim that Poland is covered with Jewish blood. The horrors of WWll will never be forgotten. There are those Poles who see the return of the Jews as a threat to their properties. But few would deny that Poland, under the leadership of Lech Kaczynski has made huge strides in the furtherance of Polish-Jewish understanding and cooperation.

Duvid Singer spoke to Rabbi Michael Shudrich Motzi Shabbos the day of the terrible tragedy Rabbi Shudrich told Duvid that he was to have been on the plane to Russia for the commemoration of the of the 22,000 massacred Poles. Had it not been Shabbos he would have been on the ill-fated plane. He believes that his life was spared because of his involvement in the return of the Synagogue of the Divrei Chaim. He believes it was the Divrei Chaim who saved his life. Z’chuso Yagain Oleinu.

"Kaczynski and those around him are irreplaceable" says Monika Krawczyk, CEO of the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland. A jewish lawyer "His approach to Jewish issues were from personal experience and convictions. We hope the new leadership will be similarly sensitive to our cause".

For more information and donations to assist with the development and completion of this project
please contact
Duvid Singer at
718 686 7799

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