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Dr. Alfred Bloch

Born in Poland of an assimilated Jewish family which migrated from Spain to Italy and then Poland in 1525, Dr Bloch came to the United States in 1939, completed his high school education at the Horace Mann School on Riverdale (New York City) and joined the US Army in 1943. He later returned to Poland where he studied Political Science and Philosophy receiving his doctorate from the University of Warsaw in 1965. The sponsor of his dissertation "The National Element in Polish Socialism 1892-1904" was Henryk Jablonski, who went on to become the Chairman of the Council of State (President) of Poland.

Dr. Bloch taught at and retired from SUNY New Paltz (NYS) in 1981 to pursue his dream of finding and preserving the records of Jewish life in Poland over the last 600 years -- starting from the beginning of the 15th century. The following insights are drawn from interviews with Dr. Bloch.

Regarding items scheduled for cataloguing in Poland: "We are talking about finding and saving such things as rabbinical court records, tax records, Jewish university records, records of political parties, of elections, of local Jewish community organizations, journals, newspapers, theater, poetry, literature, history, sociology, philosophy, art.  Everything concerning Jewish life where there is a record of it for a period of 600 years... I'm not looking for just things that were written by Jews. I'm looking for things written about Jews, against Jews. Because when you talk about a culture, you talk about a record of hate and love. I'm not going to drop the record of hate because I think it's time that we studied hate in order to understand how it feeds and what the hate mechanism is."

A starting point: "The history of the Jews in Poland probably goes back to the time of the first king of Poland or even before, back to the 10th century. The year 1405 happens to be a date when the Jews brought a fantastic Bible with them into Poland, a Bible produced in Lombardy in Hebrew and Italian. It's a fully illustrated Bible. It is a magnificent piece of art. So in order to have a signpost to start off this project, I use this 1405 date."

Regarding why he felt this was important:  "Because here you have a unique phenomenon, a very tragic phenomenon. You have a definitive starting point when Poland was the most tolerant kingdom in Europe and opened its doors to Jews who were being persecuted (elsewhere). I'm talking about the beginning of the 15th century when there was a tremendous influx of Jews into Poland. And then, you have a startling endpoint: the elimination of the Jews in Poland by the Nazis. So you can study a sedimentation of the culture for a period of 600 years.

Secondly, you have an interaction between the two cultures: The Jewish and Polish cultures cannot be understood outside each other. There is a symbiotic relationship which was a love relationship and a love-hate relationship-- it ran the gamut. This information we gather will be very interesting for the world to see because it will provide a' model of how a minority integrates into a majority, how it keeps its identity, what the continuous points of friction and understanding were.

There is a third reason for the project at this time. When my generation of Polish Jews dies out, no one will know even where to look for these materials we seek. No one will realize the wealth of material involved. The story of Jews in Poland is not just "Fiddler on the Roof."

Unexpected results: The pursuit of this dream turned Dr. Bloch into a master statesman who managed to walk the tightrope between East /West relations (or the lack thereof) and, in the process, foster many high powered relationships with people who would go on to shape the very world in which we now live. 

One such man was Karol Wojtyla. At their initial meeting, Wojtyla was an obscure Cardinal under house arrest in Poland. Dr. Bloch had gone to meet with him, because significant Jewish holding were in the possession of Catholic institutions in Poland; and he wanted to include them in his cataloguing effort. As a result, he learned that the Cardinal had philosophical /theological writings that seemed as if they would never see the light of day, and so Dr. Bloch offered to bring these writing back to the United States, translate them, and attempt to get them published. The rest is history. As fate would have it, in 1978 Cardinal Wojtyla was raised to the station of Pope assuming the name of Pope John Paul II.

As a life long friend of the new Pope commented: "The Wojtylas were strict Catholics, but did not share the anti-Semitic views of many Poles." One of Karolís playmates was Jerzy Kluger, a Jew who many years later would play a key role as a go-between for John Paul II and Israeli officials -- when the Vatican extended long-overdue diplomatic recognition to Israel.  Kluger told The New York Times that he spent many afternoons sitting in the kitchen next to the Wojtylas' coal stove listening to Karolís father tell stories about Greece, Rome and Poland.  Karol, in turn, went to the Klugers' 10-room apartment overlooking the town square and listened to music performed by a string quartet composed of two Jews and two Catholics. "The people in the Vatican do not know Jews, and previous popes did not know Jews," Kluger told the Times. "But this pope is a friend of the Jewish people because he knows Jewish people." Indeed, Wojtyla became the first pope to visit a synagogue and the first to visit the memorial at Auschwitz to victims of the Holocaust. In ending the Catholic-Jewish estrangement, he called Jews "our elder brothers."

Dr. Bloch went on to translate portions of Pope John Paulís theology (Toward a Philosophy of Praxis: An Anthology) as well as to write many books on Poland.

I had the privilege to work closely with Dr. Bloch and served as vice-president in charge of all governmental and institutional relations for the Polish /Jewish Cultural Foundation -- the core institution responsible for the Bibliographia Judiaica Project.

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