A meeting of the senior club at the JCC Krakow, including their honorary member, Sławek Pastuszka (seated on the right), interviewed by Denise Grollmus for the Sounds Jewish Podcast.
Editor’s Note: On June 3rd, Denise Grollmus, one of our 2013-14 Jewish Studies Graduate Fellows, was awarded the prestigious Sandford St Martin Trust Award for her podcast, “Sounds Jewish: The Jewish Revival in Poland.” This blog post by Denise describes her process of researching the revival and creating her award-winning podcast for the Guardian. The UW Stroum Center for Jewish Studies congratulates Denise on her achievement!
I had been living in Warsaw, Poland for seven months when I got the phone call. Sarah Peters, a former BBC radio producer who now makes podcasts for The Guardian, had read a story I’d written for Tablet Magazine about Poles discovering their Jewish roots and converting back to the religion that their ancestors had left behind, sometimes generations earlier and usually out of fear of anti-Semitism. There was a chance, she said, that she was coming to Poland to do a story on the subject and she wanted me to tell her more.
As we talked for nearly an hour about adult Hebrew schools and contemporary Polish perspectives on the Jews, Sarah asked how and when I’d become interested in this topic. That’s when I had to admit that my investment wasn’t purely academic or journalistic. It was personal. Like many of the Poles I’d been interviewing, I, too, had stumbled across my own Polish Jewish roots late in life. My maternal grandmother, who had been born and raised in Warsaw, Poland, had gone into hiding, changing her name and her identity, so that she could survive the war. Even after the war was over, she decided to keep her Jewish identity a secret from our family until I was nearly 30 years old. Ever since I’d discovered the truth, I’d been obsessed with my family history, the history of the Polish Jews, and the revival of Jewish life in Poland, where I found a community of people just like me. That’s also how I’d found myself living in Warsaw on a Fulbright grant, too.
When I was done talking, the line went silent. I could practically hear Sarah thinking, until she broke the silence and said, “you should present the podcast. You should tell it through the lens of your family’s story.” Flattered, I immediately agreed to do the piece for Sounds Jewish, a podcast series hosted by The Guardian and funded through the JCC of London. “Good,” Sarah said. “I’ll see you in a couple weeks.”