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Through accidental discovery or deathbed confessions, many Catholic Polish citizens have made an unsettling discovery: they were born Jewish. These “new Jews" must decide what this new truth means to them, as Poles and as Jews. Officials estimate an astounding 20,000 such cases in Poland alone.

With their Jewishness repressed and repudiated for decades by their parents, these children grew into to adulthood under Communist rule knowing nothing of their heritage. Often, this unsettling news came as a result of a family crisis or life-cycle event, heightening the familial and personal drama experienced by these new Jews who find even their most intimate relationships tested. Many became estranged from their disapproving families after making the decision to practice Jewish customs and rituals. These personal stories unfold in the context of Polish-Jewish history and as a direct legacy of the Holocaust.

Director Ronit Kerstner profiles some of these men and women, including Romuald Jakub Weksler-Waszkinel, a Catholic priest who, at age 35, learned that his biological mother was a Jewish woman sent to a ghetto near Vilna.

The Secret is, more broadly, an exploration of identity and family, issues often confounding for adopted children. As Kerstner has explained “This isn’t only a film about Jews in Poland. This is my own auto-therapy. My brother-in-law, who often travels with groups of Jews from Israel to Auschwitz, told me about Poles discovering their Jewish roots. This happened at a time, after the death of my father, that I discovered that my parents were not my parents – that I had been adopted. When I finally found my biological mother in Paris, and learned that she came from Warsaw, I knew I had to make this film.”


“It’s not often one sees visitors crying at Geneva’s Palace of Nations. These guests had been moved to tears by the stories of Polish citizens discovering their Jewish roots, stories, which in many cases, had been deeply buried family secrets. The film’s strength lies in its depiction of people searching for the answer to the question, ‘Who am I?’ Their doubts surface unpredictably; just before her death a grandmother reveals to her granddaugther that she is not her real grandmother; a hazy memory of a father’s lullabies suddenly reminded one of the film subjects of Jewish melodies.”
- Tomasz Surdel, Gazeta Wyborcza (Leading Polish Daily Newspaper)


"Jewish-born Polish priest dreams of Aliyah," Jewish Daily Forward, By Donald Snyder (6/17/2009)

"Ordained By the Shoah," NY Jewish Week, by Steve LIpman (11/6/2008)

"For a Priest and for Poland, a Tangled Identity," New York Times, By ROGER COHEN (10/10/1999)


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The Secret:
Poland's New Jews


Israel/Poland, 2001, 52 minutes, color
English, Hebrew, Polish, with English subtitles
Directed by Ronit Kerstner
Producer: Noemi Schory

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Public Exhibition formats: Beta, DVD





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