Polish Priest Discovers He is a Jewish Holocaust Survivor

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Imagine you are a Catholic priest in your 30s. Suddenly, at your mother’s deathbed, your world is turned completely upside-down. This was Polish Father Romuald Waszkinel experience when he learned that his real name is Yaacov (Jacob) Weksler and that his birth mother was a Jew. His Jewish Mother, Batia, had given him to Polish Catholic neighbors in order to save him from the Nazis and the Holocaust during World War II. His Polish Catholic mother, Emilia, raised him.

Torn is the apt title for a fascinating documentary featured in Manhattan’s The Other Israel Film Festival (http://www.otherisrael.org/films). Torn explores the dilemma faced by Fr. Weksler-Waszkinel, who lives in Lublin, Poland, as he tries to navigate his feelings of confusion and anxiety brought on by this identity crisis.

For years Fr. Waszkinel continues his work as a priest but is upset by anti-Semitic sentiments exhibited by many Catholics in Poland and in the Polish Catholic church. The Catholic Church preaches that anti-Semitism is a sin and Catholics know this, but he experiences anti-Semitism all around him. He compares this to “people smoking under a sign that says ‘No Smoking.’”

Nearing retirement in his mid-60s, Fr. Waszkinel feels compelled to move to Israel and immerse himself in the Jewish culture and faith of his birth mother. He hopes to live in one of the monasteries in Israel, but none will accept him.  Changing tactics, he attempts to enter a kibbutz (a communal farm or settlement in Israel) and asks to leave every Sunday to celebrate Mass. The kibbutz leaders refuse his request. Distressed, Fr. Waszkinel declares, “I can deny everything, but not Jesus!” He finally agrees to their conditions and moves to Israel to join the kibbutz.

Catholics will no doubt scratch their heads, thinking that to give up saying Mass is essentially to deny Jesus. I felt Torn about this myself until I talked to the director of the film, Ronit Kertsner.  She was empathetic to the Fr. Weksler-Waszkinel dilemma, as she too discovered in her 30s that her adoptive parents had not been truthful about her true identity.

Ronit muses, “Suddenly I had no idea who I was, which is ridiculous. Nothing had changed. I was married. I had two daughters and my life was fine, theoretically. Somehow I just got completely disconnected from my past. I guess this is what’s called an identity crisis. A psychologist told me that your identity is like a woven tapestry. Sometimes one strand gets torn, and the whole thing falls apart.”

When I asked Ronit why a Jewish audience would be drawn to a film about a Catholic priest who wants to live in Israel, she went straight to the details I had overlooked.

“It’s not just a Catholic priest who found out he is Jewish. His story is of the Holocaust. Part of why he became a priest was that he was raised as a Catholic as a result of his Jewish mother’s sacrifice. She was being sent to her death and the only way she could save him was to give him to a Catholic family. Father’s whole confusion, his whole ordeal is because of what happened during the Holocaust.

Torn is a very sensitive portrayal of Fr. Weksler-Waszkinel’s anguish at his mixed identity. He wants to have it both ways but clearly he cannot. I was impressed by the goodwill shown to him by both Catholics and Jews. After he says his last Mass in an Ursuline convent in Poland, the nuns serenade him with a guitar and music, wish him well and promise to pray for him. You can clearly see the sisters’ love for this priest and their regret at his decision.

When he arrives in Israel, the members of his new Jewish community make him feel welcome and are patient with his attempts at learning their language and customs.

Currently, Fr. Weksler-Waszkinel is working at a Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. He still has three years to come to a decision regarding Israeli citizenship. According to Ronit he has not yet officially left the priesthood.

Torn was shown at the Other Israeli Film Festival on November 15th and 16th. Details are available at http://www.otherisrael.org/films. Readers wanting to learn more about the Jewish faith might enjoy reading Catholic author Cheryl Dickow’s fascinating book, Our Jewish Roots: A Catholic Woman’s Guide to Fulfillment Today by Connecting with her Past.

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  • goral

    “He who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is not worthy of the Kingdom”

    • A son of Israel should never have been made a plow-boy for a foreign religion. He will rejoin The Chosen People at the head of the line. Thank G-D.

      • kimc

        God does not play favorites — He loves all his children.

        • Arturo Escorza Pedraza

          Remember WWII? Well, who were “all”?

          • Ruth Cassin

            Amen to kimc’s comment. Pedraza, when Jesus was asked by a Jew, “Where were YOU when . . . (horror scenes from WWII) ” His reply was, “I was THERE !” (WITH His suffering people!) Just really, really look at a Crucifix and you may begin to understand. That was not just an execution, but freely offered redemptive suffering by G_d Himself, in the person of his Son, who took on human flesh (was incarnate of the Virgin Mary). He affirmed every ounce of human flesh as sacred! I, too, once asked the same question of G_D when He surprised me with: “Forty years I have been with you . . . ” At that time I could only account for “knowing” Him for 25 years. “Where were you when . . . ” I challenged H_m as I recounted/recalled and listed some horrific early memories. “They say you are LOVE, but imperfect though I am, I would not let that happen to a little child.” He replied, simply, gently, reassuringly, and somehow believably, “Ich war DA.” = “I was there.” And slowly, as I pushed my bicycle through the cemetery in the rain, I KNEW, deep down that it was TRUE and always will be. G_D loves the victims and — without loving the sins, and while wanting the persecutors to change their ways — G_D even loves the persecutors. On the cross he begged His Father, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.” At the risk of going on so long that no one will read this, there ARE, indeed, people who DO know what they are doing when they commit crimes, e.g., lawyers who commit crimes and go against their own consciences — for their own financial gain. It is OK, even important, to fight for justice, AND to trust that justice will, in the end win out. G_D the Father raised His Son from the dead. We, too, can reasonably HOPE for LIFE, wholeness, here, now, and eternally, thanks to G_D who loves ALL of his children.

          • Arturo Escorza Pedraza

            And you thought I’d read all this nonsense? Of course! There’s always a justification for that fairytale of Jesus and “G-d” …

          • Preda

            If it is a fairytale to Arturo, you better stay in your serious world, why ridicule yourself talking around fairy tales? It makes no sense!

          • Preda

            How do you know, Arturo, how do you know what God does. Or you believe it is over, with this life? Then you need not talk of God!

        • …and you base your opinion on …?

        • Cpt_Justice

          One has nothing to do with the other. Please do some research.

  • Kathleen Woodman

    I can’t help but think of a lovely Catholic priest with Jewish roots, Fr. Arthur Klyber, now with the Lord. In the past, he used to send me hand-written postcards. He loved being a Catholic, yet was profoundly appreciative of his Jewish heritage. He wrote a number of books, and founded The Remnant of Israel, which now has a website here: http://remnantofisrael.net/ Fr. Klyber, please pray for Fr. Waszkinel.

  • This is nothing new, many children that was saved were never told of their Jewish roots,and too many from Poland!

    • binah

      That it’s “ nothing new” doesn’t make it any less a tragedy.

    • Cardinal Lustig was a jew.

  • Mary Lou Doron

    This whole article is such a reflection of the racism of the people groups mentioned…….Catholics, Protestants and even Jews!!! Who says you can’t be Jewish and believe in Jesus?? Jesus identifies as a Jew. Have none of you read Revelation 5:5 ?? And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behoned, the LION of the tribe of Judah, the ROOT OF DAVID, hath prevailed to open the book,a nd to loose the seven seals thereof.” Thank God for the love of Messiah in Yeshua……His Son, and that He loves all of our troubled people groups. We are a miserable lot………may Father Weksler Waszkinel find the people of God in Israel who will celebrate His faith in Yeshua and Messiah. And all the racist Catholics, other “Christian denominations” and Jews be left in their own little racist hole that they can crawl back into.

    • Martin

      Jews by definition don’t believe in Jesus as a messiah because he never fulfilled the very things that the Torah requires of a messiah. The Talmud speaks about Jesus but not as a messiah, but rather as a person living at the time. For a Jew to believe in Jesus as a messiah is not in keeping with Jewish tradition and the Torah, which Jews still keep today as a separate religion 2000 years after Jesus. Nothing has changed. It is not racist to maintain a religion that came before and exists after many foundings of other religions.

      • Mary Lou Doron

        we can agree to disagree…………I know many who are Jewish and do believe that Yeshua is the Messiah according to reading the Torah….the first 5 books, the Psalms and the Prophets. I do NOT accept that you have the right to define who is a Jew, Sir…….you nor the man made traditions or the interpretations of man.

        • Linda Olmert

          They can not be Jewish and believe in Jesus!

          • Mary Lou Doron

            I DO NOT ACCEPT that you have the right to define who is a Jew, or to speak for any or all Jews other than yourself. It is an opinion and a belief, and its obvious we do not agree on this.

          • binah

            You can say it’s an opinion or a belief, but believing that Jesus is the messiah is also an opinion and a belief. The Torah clearly defines a criteria for the messiah for him to be recognized as such. According to the Torah, Jesus was a Jew, but he was not the messiah. Incidentally, the religion of Christianity did not exist until 200 years after Jesus died.

          • Mulozwi Khalanga Baloyi

            You definitely missed the turn. Jews need to be born again. John 3 – Nicodemus a Pharisees went to Jesus during the night and said ” .. . For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

          • Cpt_Justice

            You missed the turn. Jews did it right the first time & do not need to do anything but follow Torah.

          • Cpt_Justice

            Jesus is not mentioned in Torah.

          • Binah

            According to my knowledge, he is mentioned in the Gemorah.

          • Cpt_Justice

            Entirely untrue. There are 3 individuals of a similar name mentioned If “he is mentioned in Gemorrah” then it certainly proves he was a reprobate,because none of the references are positive, & none reference anything associated with the Jesus story.

          • sms

            Actually, no, Mary Lou with all due respect, we do have the right as Jewish people to follow our Torah, Talmud and teachings of our sages. You are the one that doesn’t have the right to tell us what we can or can’t believe. I think if you searched your own religion, you would find that Christianity teaches against arrogance…

          • Henryb65

            If the Jewish people have the right to follow their Torah, Talmud and teachings of their sages, Catholics have their rights too, as do Muslims and Atheists. And therein lies the problem.

          • sms

            The problem only arises when those practicing other religions feel they have a right over jews. Jews don’t tell others what to believe, as long as they are leading honest lives, good for them. Somehow, the same cannot be said for many of those practicing the religions that were appropriated from the basic tenets and teachings of Judaism and moulded to be very different. For some, the fact that they were not able to abolish ours is very hard on their own beliefs. In today’s culture, this would be likened to cultural and religious appropriation….

          • Hineni47

            “If the Jewish people have the right to follow their Torah, Talmud and
            teachings of their sages, Catholics have their rights too, as do Muslims
            and Atheists. And therein lies the problem.”
            I do NOT see a problem with each going their own way at all in a spirit of mutual respect and tolerance. I DO see a problem with those who insist that everyone follow their their way because they have decided that their way is the Only True Way which all must follow.

          • Mulozwi Khalanga Baloyi

            Very true.

          • Hineni47

            “I DO NOT ACCEPT that you have the right to define who is a Jew,…”

            But you believe Christians have the right to redefine what it means to be a Jew. You are very arrogant and very one-sided.

          • binah

            A person born a Jew, remains a Jew, regardless of his belief. Judaism isn’t just a religion. Born a Jew, still Jewish, but they are not practicing Judaism or following The Torah.

          • Linda Olmert

            You should probably investigate the entire saying rather than just the part of the phrase that suits you. A Jew remains a Jew regardless of belief, only when they must change that belief under duress.

          • binah

            We are living in a time where most Jews don’t even know what it means to be Jewish. It is out of a lack of knowledge of their own Jewish heritage that they are vulnerable to the prostilization of other religions. That too is a certain kind or duress. It is very rarely out of rebellion or throwing away their Jewish tradition, but more often a deep desire to connect to G-d and are in search of that connection never knowing that it is there in their own backyard so to speak. It’s a loss and a tragedy. But it is coming from a sincere desire for connection.

          • Mary Lou Doron

            Throughout the many years I have had the privilege to know many People of the Book who identify themselves as Jewish. In saying that, I have met Jews who believed in nothing whatsoever…..calling themselves atheists. Some would go so far as to own being an agnostic…..many embrace buddhism, hinduism or other practices, even satanism. No one has ever told them, they are no longer Jewish because of what they believe and practice, or what they do not believe or practice. Only in the matter of someone who in Jewish, believing and saying that they believe Yeshua is the Messiah is there a definition trotted out, that NOW….you are no longer Jewish. This is actually the most defining thing I have ever heard anyone who is Jewish express…..They couldn’t possibly believe The Nazarene is the Messiah. I am sorry, that is not good enough. Scholars may differ in their answers regarding “How many prophecies are there in the Old Testament: Torah, Prophets, Psalms etc that were full filled by Yeshua, but the “general” range is anywhere from 200-400. There is no other MAN in history who comes close to this, if at all …….including the deceased Rabbi Menchem Mendel Schneerson or any other “false messiah’s” that the Jewish people have unfortunately followed throughout history.

          • arn

            You just proved you have nil knowledge about Judaism.

          • Menachem Mendel Schneerson (The Lubuvitche Rebbe) was not a false prophet. IN every generation there is someone who can be Moshiach(messiah). He fulfilled all of those criteria but sadly G-d decided that the world was not ready.

          • Cpt_Justice

            That’s as beautiful a description as I have heard. Well said.

          • Mulozwi Khalanga Baloyi

            Amen.

          • Cpt_Justice

            Yes, & no one tells the sinning Jews who worship false gods they aren’t Jews. We just tell them they aren’t practicing Judaism. & you prove that you aren’t either, with your false statements of “Jesus fulfilling Messianic prophesy”, which is entirely untrue.

          • Linda Olmert

            Study Jewish history, and then see if you still make glib remarks about what constitutes Jewish suffering. Assimilation, forgetting who we are because life is easy and good cannot in any way or form be defined as duress.

          • sms

            Tinokot she’nishbu or translated, Babes that were made captives

          • sms

            Actually, outwardly, like during the Crusades and during the Islamic raids, those being forced to change their religion would seem they had changed, but their soul remains Jewish.

          • Cpt_Justice

            *You* need to educate yourself & especially stop telling other people to “study” when you are clearly wrong. When Jews are forced to adopt false practices under duress, it is NOT COUNTED as changing *anything*. It is a necessary sin to preserve life & *never* counted as following false gods.

          • Mulozwi Khalanga Baloyi

            Are all 12 tribes of Israel regarded as Jews, or Jews are from the tribe of Judah only? Please educate me.

          • Cpt_Justice

            Everyone who has a Jewish mother, or who converts, is considered Jewish.

          • Henryb65

            The problem with that argument is that the Jewish RELIGION states that if the mother is not Jewish then neither is the child. That is a law of man and not a law of nature and it’s sexist too. What, by your argument, is the religion of a child born of a Jewish mother and a Muslim father. Both religions have a claim there. When a religion “claims you” it is no longer a religion.

          • Henryb65

            Of course you can. Narrow-mindedness is one of the causes of Anti-Semitism. And before you say anything, Narrow-mindedness is is one of the causes of Anti-anything and to be avoided.

      • Jill

        Oh But Jesus DID fulfill the Old Testament. It was all pointing to him all along.
        Find and read the book,
        THE CASE FOR CHRIST
        by Lee Strobel
        Shalom… and In His Undeniable Love!
        Jill

      • ysusan

        You are correct but being jewish is a religious identity as well as an ethnic identity.

    • Linda Olmert

      YOU CAN NOT BE JEWISH AND BELIEVE IN JESUS. PERIOD

      • bejackier

        I was raised as an Orthodox Jew, came to faith in Yeshua at the feet of an orthodox Rabbi who, himself, believed in Yeshua and am as profoundly Jewish as the day of my Bar Mitzvah. Search the scriptures, not the talmud or any other commentary, nor the sages and you will find Yeshua in its pages. By the way, he fulfilled the requirements of Messiah to the letter. I have been his faithful follower for more than 40 years and am more convinced of his Messiahship today than ever!

        • If you were born jewish then you are jewish.Nothing can take your birthright from you.Your beliefs however are another matter.They are not jewish beliefs.

        • Mulozwi Khalanga Baloyi

          Amen.

      • bejackier

        Additionally, more orthodox rabbis in Israel are coming to faith in Yeshua than at any other time in history!

        • Cpt_Justice

          You aren’t just a liar, you’re a stupid liar.

      • Linda, you can. Nothing can take ‘jewishness’ away from him. People can renounce publicly, scream their Hinduism/Buddhism or even their belief in yoshka from any soap box, they are still jewish

      • Henryb65

        “AND WHO SAYS SO?”, he said SHOUTING. Jesus believed he was Jewish and believed he was the son of God. So did his disciples. All religions without exception have followers who worship in such different ways that some say they are not …… (fill in the name of any religion there). Religion can be a wonderful thing (even if you practice it but do not believe totally in it). Tolerance of your fellow Jews and fellow Christians etc. is missing from your statement. So what am I, Jewish or Catholic?

        • Cpt_Justice

          Uneducated, by the sounds of it.

      • Henryb65

        Linda, If your mother is jewish, yes you are considered jewish by the laws of Judaism, period, as you say. However what you believe in, is not a law, it is a state of mind and no one can tell you what not to believe. If I am before a judge who asks me to say ‘I was wrong’ and I do, he cannot know that in my mind I am saying ‘I was right’. I fully accept the jewish law that states the rules of being jewish but you can’t force someone to believe (a state of mind) what they wish to believe. In any event a convert from Judaism to Christianity (if they are true believers) has the same God. It’s that they believe that Jesus was the messiah.

    • Jesus was never a Christian, he was born and died a Jew!

      • Mary Lou Doron

        I completely agree with you.

    • Mary Lou, what ignorance and narrow mindedness you exhibit. Jews DO NOT BELIEVE IN JESUS. Whether you are able to comprehend it or not. We’ve died enough because of your false idol and his followers. Leave us be. Preach to your own.

    • Cpt_Justice

      No one says Jews can’t be sinners. But what you cannot do is worship Jesus & insist you are also practicing Judaism. No true Jews will ever worship a false G-d, & that’s a fact.

  • Dorota Jenkins

    Something is wrong with the timeline. If he is in mid-60ies then he was born after the war.

    • Marianne van den Heuvel-Bögels

      old story?

    • That was my thought too.
      He must be in his mid to late 70’s

    • Henryb65

      The article was dated November 2011. If he was say 68, in 1942 or 1943, when Auschwitz at least went into second gear, he would have been a baby. The timeline is correct.

  • kay

    Jews were chosen , not because they are the best , but because G=d decided they should become a Light to The Nations.

  • Hineni47

    This is a very sad story. A Jewish mother makes a desperate attempt to save her child by giving him to a Catholic woman who raises him to be a very devout Catholic. So devout that he becomes a celibate priest. Having found out about his background in his thirties it was not too late for him to leave the priesthood and start a family, raising his children as Catholics or Jews as he thought best. He does not, and instead tries to have it both ways.

    • Cpt_Justice

      It *is* a sad story. They stole our children, helping Hitler destroy us as a nation.

    • Henryb65

      Very sad indeed. He was fortunate that his mother understood the seriousness of the Nazis and gave him the hope of life by giving him to a catholic family instead of walking into a gas chamber with her child. What courage the catholic family had, as had they been caught, they would have faced death. Certainly not stealing.