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More than 100 people from across Poland who have recently discovered their Jewish roots will gather this weekend in Krakow for a special conference aimed at helping them to grapple with their newfound identity.
The gathering, the first of its kind, is being organized by Shavei Israel, a Jerusalem-based group that reaches out and assists "lost Jews" seeking to return to the Jewish people.
It will take place in Krakow's historic Kazimierz district, where the city's Jewish quarter stood for centuries, and will include a series of panel discussions, lectures and talks, as well as a traditional Sabbath experience.
"Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, an increasing number of Poles have begun to uncover their families' Jewish ancestry, which was often hidden out of fear of persecution by the Nazis and, later, the Communists," according to Shavei Israel chairman Michael Freund, who is also a Jerusalem Post columnist.
"But now that Poland has embraced democracy, people feel freer to delve into their past, and many are unearthing the fact that their parents or grandparents were Jews," he said.
Polish Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich, who is scheduled to take part in the gathering, has estimated that there may be as many as 20,000 or more such "hidden Jews" living throughout Poland.
They are said to include the offspring of Jewish children who were adopted by Catholic families during the Nazi occupation of Poland six decades ago and then raised as Poles. Many are only now discovering their Jewish background, often by chance.
During the conference, Shavei Israel plans to inaugurate the opening of the organization's outreach center in Krakow, which will serve the large number of "hidden Jews" living in the area.
In addition, the group will launch the publication of the first Polish-Yiddish dictionary to be released since the Holocaust. The dictionary, which contains over 35,000 entries, including phonetics, was compiled by Yiddish scholar Julia Makosz, and was edited by Dr. Przemyslaw Piekarski, a Yiddish professor at Krakow's Jagiellonian University.
"In a place where the Germans sought to erase all traces of Judaism, and nearly succeeded, it is gratifying to see that Jewish life still endures," Freund said. "Six decades after the Holocaust, the best revenge is to revitalize Jewish life and to bring as many of these people back as possible," he added.
On the eve of World War II, Poland was home to an estimated 3,000,000 Jews, more than 90 percent of whom were murdered in the Holocaust.
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