Jerusalem, May 30, 2013 – Mariusz Robert Aoflko, a 64-year old Jewish attorney in Krakow who grew up thinking he was a Polish Catholic, celebrated his Bar Mitzvah earlier today, June 30, at the Kotel with friends and other hidden Jews from Poland.

Mariusz spent his entire life as a Catholic. However, 13 years ago, right before his mother passed away, she told him something that turned his whole world upside down and would change his life forever: That he is a Jew. And not only a Jew, but a Kohen (a member of the Jewish priestly caste) as well. Currently, Mariusz (who now goes by the name of Moshe) is visiting Israel for the first time and celebrated his Bar Mitzvah at the Kotel this morning, 13 years after the secret was revealed, which he calls “his rebirth.”

It turns out that both of Mariusz’s parents were born to Jewish families who perished in Auschwitz. After the war, the fear of being Jewish in Poland led his parents to hide their religion and to live as Polish Catholics, which in turn was a lifestyle and identity they passed on to Mariusz, hiding the fact that he was Jewish.

After learning his true identity, Mariusz was in complete shock and did not know how to digest news of such epic proportions. But slowly over the years he decided he wanted to live a Jewish life. He contacted Shavei Israel’s emissary in Krakow, Rabbi Boaz Pash, and started to become involved with the Jewish community in Krakow.

Last month he met Michael Freund, founder and chairman of Shavei Israel, at the entrance of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Poland and told him the story of how he discovered his Jewishness. “When Mariusz told me his incredible story, I was deeply moved,” Freund said, adding, “I told him that since 13 years have passed since he found out he was a Jew, it is an appropriate time for him to have a Bar Mitzvah.” Freund then offered to arrange for the event to take place at the Kotel, all paid for by the organization. Mariusz was very moved by the gesture and of course agreed.

“Since my mother revealed this incredible secret to me, I feel like I am reborn. By embarking on this journey into my heritage, step by step it all starts to become clear to me,” said Mariusz. “I am not doing this to prove anything to anyone. All I ask is to embrace the truth about my family and regain the lost identity that was hidden from me for decades.”

Attached to this E-mail please find photos of the Bar Mitzvah that took place this morning. Photo credit to Sasson Tiram, courtesy of Shavei Israel.

Today, there are approximately 4,000 Jews registered as living in Poland, but experts suggest there may be tens of thousands of other Jews 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, popularly known as the “Hidden Jews of Poland”, have begun to return to Judaism and to the Jewish people.

Shavei Israel is a non-profit organization founded by Michael Freund, who immigrated to Israel from the United States, with the aim of strengthening the ties between the Jewish people, the State of Israel and the descendants of Jews around the world. The organization is currently active in nine countries and provides assistance to a variety of different communities such as the Bnei Menashe of India, the Bnei Anousim (referred to as the derogatory “Marranos” by historians) in Spain, Portugal and South America, the Subbotnik Jews of Russia, the Jewish community of Kaifeng in China, descendants of Jews living in Poland, and others.

Shavei Israel currently has two full-time emissaries in Poland located in Krakow and Katowice.

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