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Neo-Nazis discover Jewish roots; embrace Judaism

September 26, 2010 17:44

Married Polish skinheads attend orthodox shul after researching Jewish ancestors. Polish Chief Rabbi: "Never write somebody off."

Polish Skinhead Couple

Polish Skinhead Couple 311. (photo credit:CNN)

Two Polish former neo-Nazis who recently discovered their Jewish roots were the subjects of a CNN documentary aired on Saturday. The two, who met when they were 12 and were married at 18, describe themselves as having been rebellious youth and slowly becoming affiliated with Warsaw's neo-Nazi skinhead movement during their teenage years.

Ola vaguely remembered having a conversation with her mother when she was 13 years old in which her mother told her about their family's Jewish roots. As she later discovered through her own research, her ancestors hid their Jewish identities in order to escape the persecution of the Nazi Germany and later in the Soviet Union.

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The harrowing story of a Jewish skinhead

As she and her husband became more and more involved in Warsaw's skinhead movement, Ola remembered that conversation with her mother so many years before. Determined to find answers for herself, she went to Poland's Jewish Historical Institute. However, Ola did not only confirm her own family's Jewish roots. She also discovered that her neo-Nazi husband's ancestors were Jewish as well.

"It was unbelievable -- it turned out that we had Jewish roots. It was a shock. I didn't expect to find out that I had a Jewish husband," Ola said of her discovery. She said that she didn't know how to tell her husband the news, but felt compelled to do so.

"I was a nationalist 100 percent. Back then when we were skinheads it was all about white power and I believed Poland was only for Poles. That Jews were the biggest plague and the worst evil of this world," Ola's husband Pawel told CNN. "It is difficult to describe how I felt when I found out I was Jewish... I was angry, sad, scared, unsure."

Pawel also talked about how he has changed. In his new life, he feels bad for some of the things he did and the people he hurt.

The two began to deal with their renewed Jewish identity by attending an Orthodox Jewish synagogue. To this day, they have consulted with and studied under Warsaw's Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich.

Today, the now-Orthodox couple have fully embraced their Judaism, Pawel studying to work in a Kosher slaughter house and his wife Ola working as a kashrut supervisor in the synagogue's kitchen.

"It says on a personal level, never write somebody off. Where they may be 10 years ago doesn't have to be where they are today. And the human being has this unlimited capability of changing and sometimes even for the better," Rabbi Schudrich said of his two congregants.
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