Would you like to join us in Poland?
After years of working with groups committed to building Jewish-Christian relations and support for Israel, I was introduced to similar work going on behind the former Iron Curtain. I traveled to Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary in summer of 1993 with friends who were part of an interfaith book club and who had been studying Holocaust literature. While in Poland I met with two Polish brothers whose family lived in Oswiecim, the small city just outside the gates of Auschwitz. Roman and Stanislaw Gawel were born in that town in the 1950s, just after the end of WWII, and had grown up there in the years when the Communists controlled Poland.
The Catholic school the brothers attended took the students to view the near-by camp at Auschwitz but the government-edited text books told them that the victims of the camps where mainly Polish patriots. However one of the Catholic school teachers told the students that the text books lied, and that it was important for them to know that most of the victims were Jews. The Gawel boys took this information to heart and when the Polish resistance began in the 1980s they participated both in the Christian renewal movement and the Polish Solidarity activities. Now Stanislaw pastors a Protestant church in Zilina, Slovakia and Roman leads a pro-Israel Christian fellowship in Oswiecim. They have both sponsored many meetings and conferences to teach on the history of antisemitism and the need to work for Jewish-Christian understanding. Both of the groups led by the Gawel brothers have been deeply involved in bringing humanitarian aid to communities of elderly Jews who remained in Ukraine after Communism fell. Most of these Jews were unable to travel to Israel or other western counties due to health problems, lack of family connections or financial support. The support and friendship of the Christian groups has meant a great deal to these struggling Jewish people.