The gathering, symbolically taking place just ahead of Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, which begins on the evening of April 7, is being organized by the Jerusalem-based Shavei Israel organization in commemoration of the revival of Jewish life in Poland.
“Our aim is to underline the indestructibility of the Jewish spirit,” said Michael Freund, founder and chairman of Shavei Israel.
“In recent years, a growing number of young Poles have begun to discover their Jewish roots, which Hitler and his henchmen so ruthlessly sought to erase,” Freund said, adding that "by bringing these young people together to honor and explore their Jewish heritage, we are sending a message to the world that we are truly an eternal nation.
"Indeed, I can’t think of a better way to demonstrate that the Jewish people still live than by celebrating Shabbat with young Polish Jews in the shadow of the valley of death known as Auschwitz.”
Participants in the seminar are mostly young adults who will be coming together to study Judaism and Jewish history, get to know new Jewish friends, and above all to celebrate and demonstrate pride in their Jewish roots.
Over the course of the weekend, the group will observe a traditional Shabbat, join in prayers, hear lectures, and engage in meaningful discussions on the future of the Jewish people.
Services will be held in the Chevra Lomdei Mishnayot Synagogue in Oswiecim, the only functioning synagogue that remains in the area.
The town of Oswiecim, commonly known as Auschwitz, saw its first Jewish settlement in the early 16th century. Among Jews it was known by its Yiddish name, Oshpitzin, and it was home to a dozen synagogues and several yeshivot on the eve of the Holocaust.
According to unofficial data, at the start of World War II Oswiecim’s population was around 14,000, which included 8,200 Jews (more than half the city’s population). Most were murdered during the Holocaust by the Germans and their accomplices.
By September 1945, only 186 Jews remained in Oswiecim, and by November 1946 that number had dwindled further to just 40. Between 1945 and 1955 the majority of Oswiecim’s Jews emigrated to Israel and the United States.
In 2000, the Auschwitz Jewish Center was opened, and it later became affiliated with the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in New York.
Today, there are approximately 4,000 Jews registered as living in Poland, but experts suggest there may be tens of thousands of others in Poland who to this day are either hiding their identities or are simply unaware of their family heritage.
In recent years, a growing number of such people, known as the "Hidden Jews of Poland", have begun to return to Judaism and to the Jewish people.