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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » July 29, 2011
Politics & Society
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A Family Reunion
July 29, 2011   
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Aleksandra Kopystyńska, deputy chairwoman of the Children of the Holocaust association, talks to Marcin Mierzejewski.

The 23rd international conference of the Children of the Holocaust group takes place in Warsaw Aug. 19-22. Is this the first time the convention is being held in Poland?
It is and so this is a historical event. The convention rarely takes place outside the United States. It was held in Israel once, once in the Netherlands, and once in the then Czechoslovakia. Warsaw was first proposed as a location when I attended the conference in Boston two years ago along with 400 other participants. There was a lot of deliberation and many people would say to me, “Poland? I’m never going to Poland!” This is what workshops with psychotherapists are for, to reassure those people and explain to them that visiting Poland is not so terrible, that everything has changed here and there is no raging anti-Semitism. But a few people, especially those who emigrated from Poland in 1968, still said: “I will never put my foot on Polish soil again.” We hope this conference will change Poland’s image internationally. We would really want that to happen.

The International Conference of Children of the Holocaust is being organized by the World Federation of Jewish Child Survivors of the Holocaust. Our Polish association is the local organizing committee. Twenty-six percent of foreign guests who have signed up for the event so far were born in Poland. To them, this is a historical moment. They are coming to the country of their birth and many of them will bring their children and even adult grandchildren along. The current participant list includes over 20 members of the second generation and our third-generation group in Poland will give us a hand with the conference as volunteers. Their help is priceless, as they are fluent English speakers and people of my age do not usually speak the language at all.

What events will be taking place during the conference?
There will be workshops, panel discussions and lectures. The lectures will be delivered by speakers who we have proposed, including Prof. Adam Rotfeld, Prof. Feliks Tych, and Rabbi Michael Schudrich. We will have an interpreter and so lectures in Polish will be translated into English. Rabbi Schudrich will speak about the revival of the Jewish community in Poland. Prof. Tych’s lecture will deal with Jews who fought in World War II, including German Jews who were used as spies in Germany. Prof. Rotfeld will give a lecture entitled The Holocaust—Remembrance, Forgiveness, Reconciliation? Then, Prof. Aleksander Skotnicki will give a lecture on Jews in prewar Cracow, Dr. Leszek Allerhand on Jews in prewar Lviv and Helena Datner will talk about what it means to be a Jew in Poland.

The workshops, in turn, will be mainly conducted by our American guests. Almost all will deal with the conference’s being held in Poland, how the participants feel about it, what they feel coming to Poland and what memories of Poland spring to their minds. The topics of the panel discussions are very interesting, for example one discussion will explore the similarities and differences between Hitler and Stalin.

Does the conference have any events specially for second-generation participants?
It certainly does. Some workshops have been prepared for survivors’ children. One of the workshops, conducted by Anna Dodziuk, will seek to answer what it means to be a member of the second generation. There will also be a panel discussion entitled Second Generation—Our Jewish Identity, with members of the second generation as the panelists.

What do you think participants gain from such conventions? Why do they attend them?
These are family reunions. People make friends. Hugs and kisses are everywhere to be seen on the very first day, people say: “You’re here, you came, you’re alive!” We are in our seventies and older and so we are happy to be able to meet and be together once again. Another extremely important thing is that the stories of our lives are similar. Psychologists believe that the war, even if experienced unconsciously by a small child, still affects our lives today and there we indeed have things in common. This year’s conference is an international congress, but our Polish association also organizes annual conventions of our members in Poland. Those meetings are similar to this conference.
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