Rimma Volynska-Bogert

We all had a profound awareness that our families had perished. Absolutely everyone had died in the camps and ghettoes. I could say precisely where – in the Treblinka camp and in the Bialystok ghetto. Absolutely no one survived. 

Only we had been saved in the Soviet Union. And we returned to that place, to Poland, fully aware that we belonged there. But not only that we belonged there, but that it was our responsibility to continue the lives of those people, members of our families who had not survived. 

We not only had to preserve their memory, but also preserve their spirit. It was symbolically, extremely important that we remain precisely on that soil. Our ancestors had lived there for hundreds of years. So, after Stalin died in 1953 and we could leave the Soviet Union, our first duty was to obtain permission to return to Poland and to remain in Poland, because that is where we belonged. We were Polish Jews.

Had there been no Jewish theatre in Poland, we would not have known anything about pre-War Jewish culture when growing up. How else would we have known? Our parents were as if mute and deaf. They were terribly frightened. They couldn’t speak about the past. I think about that terrible fear that my mum carried inside her – a fear from experiencing what she saw in Poland and Russia. To a certain degree, that fear choked her so that she just couldn’t speak about her past. 

And if it wasn’t for our cultural association, our TSKŻ, and if it was not for all our young people and all our educators who together carried parts of Jewish culture and stories, I wouldn’t have known anything. I would simply have learned from my mum that it should not be spoken about. Because, if we open our mouths and say something, there could be terrible consequences. Each time mouths are open, there are consequences. Those consequences are camps, they are prisons.

In 1968, I suddenly felt that we were all slapped in the face. I felt that I am a Polish Jew. It was an emotional wound, an emotional wound at losing Poland. It was the kind of wound caused by being thrown out. That I found myself in America was completely accidental. The wound has never healed. But I carry on just like others who have been traumatized. In the first years, one doesn’t realize it because you are too preoccupied with living on somehow. But it began gradually to emerge. Basically, what happened? An awareness of what actually occurred. That’s why I’m here and not there. And that’s why I’m deprived of my own native soil.

(Source: March ’68 and its aftermath / POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews)