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Kiss Me, I'm Polish

Kiss Me, I'm Polish

My quest to become a Polish citizen reminded me who I really am.


Watching the news, I heard that savvy Israelis were reclaiming the Polish citizenship that their grandparents had lost just before the war. While I knew that no Jew ever cries out, "If I forget thee, oh Warsaw, may my right hand whither" or sits at his Passover table singing, with deep pangs of longing, "Next year in Krakow," I nonetheless snapped into action and called my brother. We too would become citizens of Poland!

Why Poland? Blatant self-interest. As citizens of Poland, an EU member, we could suddenly work anywhere in Europe. I had visions of moving to London by the end of the month -- soon, my older brother would be in Paris, my sister in Amsterdam, my younger brother in Prague. Yes, we would be Polish nationals, living in the Polish Galut (exile), making our new country proud or, more accurately, just taking advantage of its citizenship laws.

Years ago, after our grandparents escaped Europe, the Poles stripped them of their citizenship. But, later, the Poles -- for whatever reason -- invited many like them back. While our grandparents had no interest at all, deeming Polish Citizenship "useless," we -- at long last -- would frivolously recapture their citizenship and prove its lack of use by never even living in their land.

While no Jew ever cries out, "If I forget thee, oh Warsaw, may my right hand whither," nonetheless, I wanted to become a citizen of Poland.

Our first step in this process was to schedule an appointment with the Polish Consulate in Toronto. Our next step was to email each other repeatedly with the subject heading: "Becoming Polish Next Tuesday." We could hardly stomach the eight days until we would become Polish citizens and we could hardly wait.

As we plotted our strategy, my brother and I began to imagine what it would be like. We would get "Kiss me, I am Polish!" shirts and buttons and proudly wear them to our annual Polish Independence Day bash each November 11th. Instead of burgers and fries, we would cook Kilbasa and Perogies. Posters of Lech Walesa and Copernicus would now adorn our bedrooms. Of course, Polish jokes were now passé and my brother and I would dismiss those who engaged such bigotry. Who were they to insult our people? I was offended already.

When the day came, we drove to the consulate and then waited...and waited...and waited for Irina, a Consular Officer to meet with us. We paced back and forth in the Consular lobby and watched as the women behind the glass booths smoked and filled out visa requests. I could not help but wonder, "Would we be Polish today?"

Slightly more than an hour after our scheduled appointment, Irina walked in, the smell of fresh cigarettes on her breath. She started speaking to us in Polish. We must have looked at her with stunned surprise because she politely transitioned to English. She asked us for our documents and we gave her our birth certificates and passports and also gave her records of our respective grandparents' immigration papers from 1937 in Nova Scotia and 1938 in Newfoundland. I opened my Zaida's passport, saw his smiling face and thought: "If only he could see me now. He would either be enormously proud or profoundly disappointed.

As Irina leafed through the documents, she informed us that very few people are in fact eligible to reclaim their grandparent's Polish citizenship. She explained that our grandparents had to have left after 1954, but ours had left well before. They needed to have never renounced their Polish citizenship, but ours had done so to become Canadian citizens. In an instant, my new homeland had been torn away from me.

Back in our car, heading home, entirely demoralized, my brother tried to lift my spirits. "Maybe there is another way for us to work in Europe?" Our paternal grandfather was from Latvia. Maybe we were Latvian at heart? We had family in England too. Maybe be could try out cockney accents for a few days and see what happens? Our great grandmother was Austrian perhaps I could strap on a pair of lederhosen?

As a sense of failure set in, we pulled up to my apartment. Before saying goodbye, I looked at my brother and said, "It's a real shame. I would have made a great Pole."

"You can still live the dream," he consoled. "I need to get rid of a cupboard full of Kilbasa."

Weighing my brother's offer, I concluded that with so little to gain from Kilbasa personally, I should just stick to the comfort of brisket and tsimmis.



February 17, 2007

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Visitor Comments: 13

(12) Anonymous, August 9, 2012 3:59 AM

just because one person says something, doesn't mean it is so

The Statute on Polish Citizenship, as amended in 2000, permits the descendants of Poles who lost their nationality involuntarily between 1920 and 1989 to take up Polish citizenship without regard to ordinary naturalization criteria. If your relatives had to leave for fear for their lives, ie living close to Hitler's headquarters (ahem), you have a right to return.

(11) Tess, June 30, 2011 4:14 PM

not in agreement with many of you

"Their is nothing better this side of heaven, EXCEPT Israel" what are you referring to..Canadian citizenship? It is a little too late for that for those not born there is it not? Especially if in leaving Poland your elder's like mine have already settled elsewhere. "Why would anyone want Polish citizenship?" Precisely because we were chased out of each and every country and isn't it time they gave even a smidge of something back? Retribution. A piece of heritage rightfully ours. Especially when everything else was ripped away from our ancestors who considerd those places their country. Being that most everyone came from Europe...but were never acknowledged as citizens, no matter how many decades we stayed or how many generations were born there in any given country (poland in this instance) whether our ancestors fought in their military or served these EE countries in other ways... the passports still read "JEWS" never Poles, Russians etc. Any other European Pole, French, Spaniard was able to move freely within and through other countries...but not our families. So this means we should perpetuate that BS notion and stay put or be forced to set up shop wherever we were forced to flee to because we had to be on the move??? NO!!! Don't get me wrong I am a patriotic American...but does that mean when I see pics of Old world Europe I don't feel the nag of what my family lost? I do...and I'll be damned if I don't want a piece of it back. Just because their forefathers had too much to say about where my family could not live /stay /have citizenship does NOT mean my relatives agreed with it...why should I. besides there are plenty of us there still hidden, intermarried, perhaps even family of yours! Wouldn't you want the find that out? I would!

yehuda, August 8, 2016 9:40 PM


Actually it is not correct: Poland was THE ONLY country that Jews had Polish citizenship written in the passport. Soviet Union in all their wisdom and equality (lol!) forced Jews into separate citizen category.

(10) Mazulis, March 18, 2008 5:30 AM

Hope it doesn't happen to me!

I couldn't stop laughing when I read your experience in becoming a Pole. However, in the same way I felt pity (because really, that must have hurt )I really hope the same situation does not occur to me. My grandfather was polish as well. Luckily he fought in the WW2 as a pilot of a B-52. I sent all my papers to the embassy 5 months ago, and only today I got the e-mail telling me that my papers were ready to be signed by the president of Poland! There was no further explanation! I just hope that means I'm getting my citizenship soon. cheero
keep on bloggin!

(9) Maria Pajonk, February 26, 2007 4:52 PM

Go (to Poland) and see!

There are many Peaple in this country who are looking like Jews and they are Jews (or mixed Jews) even if they dont know this.Ithink that 1000 years history of two nations existing for so long together nobody shuld thru away, becaus "You never know what G-d's plan is with Jews and Pols".Allthinks have a reason even if we dont know this yeat.
Shalom Maria

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