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When a skinhead punched Rabbi Michael Schudrich on a street in Warsaw, the Chief Rabbi of Poland punched him back. This is just one of the reasons why Poland needs him.

For centuries, Poland was home to the largest Jewish community in the world, but nearly 90 percent of that community was murdered during the Holocaust. Many who survived the Holocaust left, vowing never to return. Of those who stayed, many hid their Jewish roots. Consequently, generations of Poles have grown up not knowing their heritage.

Since the fall of communism in 1989, a growing number of Poles have learned of their Jewish roots. Rabbi Schudrich is the person they often turn to for help.

Rabbi Schudrich will discuss the rebirth of Polish Jewry as part of the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance’s Upstander Speaker Series on Thurs., June 4. The event will be held at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas, 7900 Northaven Road, Dallas, TX 75230. Tickets are available at Eventbrite.com.

Rabbi Schudrich, who is a New York native, is helping Polish citizens who have discovered their heritage as well as Jews outside of Poland who are beginning to learn about their Polish ancestors.

About 85 percent of American Jews have Polish roots, according to the New York-based YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. Rabbi Schudrich estimates there are 30,000 to 40,000 people who now identify themselves as Jewish or have Jewish heritage in Poland.

“What is growing more than anti-Semitism is anti-anti-Semitism,” Rabbi Schudrich said recently from his home in Poland.

It was 2006 when Rabbi Schudrich was punched and pepper sprayed by the neo-Nazi on the streets of Warsaw. The man was quickly apprehended and spent two months in jail. He said nothing like that has happened before or since.

“It was an act that was certainly anti-Semitic, which is terrible, especially because it was on me," Rabbi Schudrich said wryly. "But more importantly was what was the reaction of the Polish leadership and of the Polish public. They were abhorred that someone had pepper sprayed the chief rabbi. When something went wrong the reaction is right.”

Poland has changed and is changing, Rabbi Schudrich said. The anti-Semitism of the pre-WWII era does not exist at those levels today.

Outside of Israel, Poland draws more Jewish visitors for Jewish reasons that any other country in the world.

“As a global issue, it’s a story of hope," Rabbi Schudrich said. “It’s a story of what democracy can do in a place that was devastated for 50 years.”

Rabbi Schudrich also served as rabbi of the Jewish Community of Japan from 1983 to 1989 and was involved in gaining recognition for Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat who disobeyed his government’s orders and issued visas that allowed 6,000 Jews to escape from Nazi-occupied territories via Japan in 1940.

For more information about Rabbi Schudrich’s lecture, please visit DallasHolocaustMuseum.org or call 214.741.7500.

Series Sponsor: Real Time Resolutions

Supporting sponsors: The Dallas Morning News, G&H Ventures, LLC and Humanities Texas.

 This program is made possible in part by a grant from Humanities Texas, the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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