An Interview with Shula Lavyel: "They were Poles"

As a 10-year-old girl in 1934, Shula Lavyel immigrated with her parents to the British Mandate of Palestine from Poland. She points out a curious apparent paradox: While some Polish Jews who left the country before the war wanted to forget about their old country, some of those who moved to Israel after World War II, still nevertheless held a strong attachment to the part of Europe which became the stage for the Holocaust.

The excerpts from interviews with Shula Lavyel collected here trace her past and that of her late husband Amos, also a Polish Jew, from their childhood and youth years in Poland, to their arrivals in Palestine in 1934 and 1943. She also recounts visits to the old country years later. In Shula’s story, Poland is at once a land where many Jews experienced antisemitism and a home to good Polish friends. It is, finally, the setting of the concentration camps built by Nazi Germany, whose victims Shula helped commemorate, as she assisted a movie team from a leading Israeli museum on a journey there in 1987. The conversation provokes reflection about relative roles of diverse ways of relating to an old diaspora country in modern Jewish memory. Its message, however, extends far beyond the fields of Polish and Jewish history, to a crucial question about the roles of migrants’ sentiments and nostalgia towards their old countries in creating their personal memories, as opposed to their new societies’ collective memories.