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October 2015 | jewiSh vOice | 17


ifty years ago, in October 1965, an ocean away and a world

removed from her childhood in europe, Lucia weitzman, 25, at-

tended to the needs of her two-year-old son and infant daughter

in suburban Detroit. On the 28th day of that month, the vatican

issued a Declaration on the Relation of the church to Non-christian

Religions Nostra Aetate (“in Our Time”), a landmark document

that rejects the charge that the jews of jesus’ time or those alive

today are collectively guilty of jesus’ death.

Lucia recoiled upon learning the news. This was a different mes-

sage than what she had heard while she sat in the pews of her

beloved St. Mikolaj church in Bochnia, Poland. it was much the

same during her school years.

She was then known as Alicja Swiatek, an assumed identity. Born

to jewish parents, Michael and Adele Berl, and blessed with the

name Rose, she’d been given at age two to a catholic couple, Ge-

nowefa and Franciszek Swiatek, for safekeeping in a desperate at-

tempt to keep her from the Nazis—and certain death. her parents

never returned after the war, perishing in the holocaust.

Adopted by the Swiateks, Alicja was not a jewish girl in hiding dur-

ing the war—she was simply a catholic child nurtured by doting

parents. But the secret of her true identity was revealed in the

spring of 1945 when a jewish relative searched Bochnia for the

little girl, intending to send her to a jewish orphanage. Alicja clung

to Genowefa’s leg and the war-weary relative left after a brief


The impact of the relative’s visit was immediate. The Swiateks’

landlord and neighbor, who’d given Alicja candy a day earlier, now

threw a brick at her. he threatened her with a butcher’s knife

off and on for more than a decade after that. She was taunted in

grade school, even though she regularly attended church and had

little idea about who jews were (there were none left in Bochnia)

or what judaism was about.

what was the source of this hatred, evident long after the Ger-

mans had left Poland?

The jewish-christian split early in the first century, and more

pointedly the charge of deicide, figured prominently in well over a

millennium of persecution directed at jews. in addition to absolv-

ing collective jewish culpability, the Nostra Aetate declared that

“jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God.” it

decried “hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed

against jews at any time and by anyone.”

chIld hOlOcaust survIvOr,

raIsed cathOlIc, reFlects

On the 50th annIversary

OF nOstra aetate

By S. Mitchell Weitzman


mOre On next page

Lucia Weitzman

photo Courtesy of smith puBliCity, inC.