Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Emanuel Tanay - March 16, 1987

Religious Life

Let me take you back for a second to before the war again and we'll come back to this. Was your family religious?

No. My family was not religious even though my uh, father's family was a well known rabbinical family, in fact my great grandfather was the Radoszyce Rov known as the Tsadìk from Radoszyce and uh, there were many religious leaders in the past, but my father and my mother were not religious.

So you went to public school in...

Oh, yes, I went to public school and in fact, in my school to my recollection, I was the only youngster, particularly the only boy who looked like the rest of the kids. You see, I didn't have payes, I didn't wear you know a hat [he gestures] and I looked like the other kids which created an interesting kind of situation. I spoke Polish perfectly, I didn't go to cheder you know the school that all the Jewish kids immediately as the school finished, the Jewish kids had to run because they had to make it to the cheder, the religious school which had greater to do with the fact the Jewish youngsters didn't do so well in school. In the Polish school, because they didn't have time for homework, because they were so involved with the cheder in the small towns and one of the activities after school as I remember was for the Polish kids to chase the Jewish kids and taunt them, beat them up, do variety of things of that sort. I was exempt from that because I looked too much like them. But I would always get involved in it and say now come on fight with me too as a youngster. This is a very vivid memory in my mind. I also had the opportunity sort of to be unrecognized even as a child. In other words, I could go someplace and people, Poles, would not know that I am a Jew. You know, the greeting in Poland, between two Poles, was a religious one. You know Poland was a very Catholic country. If you met somebody on the street, or in a village or so, you didn't say good morning, but you said a religious type of greetings. Now you didn't say that to a Jew, you see. Now, that wouldn't be true of me. If I walked someplace or so if I, I would be greeted in that manner, because there was the notion in those small towns particularly, that the Jew can always be recognized. If a Jew said good morning, you right away knew from the accent that he was a Jew even if you didn't know from his appearance. You looked at the Jew, you right away knew in Poland that this was a Jew, which was critical later on, because you know, when people later on retrospectively ask, why didn't Jews fight or hide or whatever, it was very difficult because Jews were so readily recognized as Jews. Which incidentally, the Germans couldn't do. See Germans could not recognize a Jew as a Jew, but a Polish person would usually recognize a Jew right away.

But you as a child, identified yourself as a Jew, though?

Oh, clearly. I always identified myself as a Jew, even though often, if I chose not to for some reason, out of fear or whatever or some situation, I could not to. Most Jewish kids didn't have that, that option even by the manner they were dressed. I mean clothing itself right away gave you away. Speech gave you away as a Jew, your habits, you know even gestures and so on. That's, you know this is a whole area in itself that is very difficult for, I think, American Jews and non-Jews to recognize. This tremendous separation that existed in eastern Europe, in Poland particularly, between the Jewish and the non-Jewish community.

Was your family at all observant, did you celebrate the Sabbath on Friday night?

Oh yes, yes, yes. No not Friday night, but we celebrated the major holidays and I would go uh, to the synagogue. We celebrated, for example, Yom Kippur, we would spend, my father and I would spend in a synagogue and, it was you know in my town, my father was sort of viewed with some degree of ambivalence by the Jews. They were proud of him because he was quite assertive and came to their assistance many times, uh, and they called him sometimes "the goy." Sort of disparaging in someway, but when we went to the synagogue, my father knew how to daven, how to pray you know, and the term pray doesn't quite convey the meaning of daven because this was not only uh, praying was a skill and my father was very adapt at it and they were always amazed, I recall that, that it would be sort of a certain admiration for my father because he spoke Hebrew from his childhood and spoke Hebrew not only that Leshón ha-Kódesh, the language as it was spoken in relation to praying, but he also knew the modern Hebrew.

Were you Bar-mitzvah?

Yes, I had Bar Mitzvah in, there was already during you know, I was born 1928 so I was Bar Mitzvah when it was very dangerous to be Bar Mitzvah, but it was at a synagogue and I recall it very vividly.

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