Page last updated at 10:03 GMT, Thursday, 26 November 2009

Polish woman's Jewish "shock"

Next week, John Demjanjuk will stand trial in Germany accused of helping to murder more than 27,000 Jews at the Sobibor death camp, built by the Nazis in Poland. The BBC's Steve Rosenberg travelled to Poland to meet a woman who only recently discovered she, herself, was Jewish and that her family had been killed in one such camp.

Bogomila always suspected that her mother had a secret.

"She always looked frightened," Bogomila tells me. "My husband used to say, "Your mother is afraid of her own shadow."

This summer, her 67-year-old mother Barbara finally revealed her secret. She is a Jewish child of the Holocaust. Suddenly, at the age of 37, Bogomila realised she was Jewish, too.

Archive picture of Sobibor
On Friday, Steve Rosenberg speaks to a survivor of Sobibor, a Nazi extermination camp set up in the Lublin region of occupied Poland

"I was in shock," Bogomila admits. "I didn't sleep at all that night. I couldn't eat for the next two weeks."

I'm sitting with Barbara and Bogomila in the Jewish community centre in Lublin. Before World War II, more than 40,000 Jews lived in this city. The Holocaust changed everything.

"My whole family was killed by the Nazis," Barbara says.

"I survived because a Polish family agreed to hide me. When I was growing up I realised the Polish 'mother' couldn't be my real mother, she was too old. When I was 12 she told me the truth."

I ask Barbara why she had waited so many years before telling Bogomila and her other two daughters of their Jewish heritage.

"My husband is Catholic," Barbara says, "He didn't want the girls to know. His own family didn't like Jews. He didn't want the girls to have problems. I'd had problems when I was small. In school the other children used to make fun of me. They used to pull my curly hair to try to make it straight. I was made to feel different."

Today Jews in Poland continue to suffer abuse.

I wouldn't call it anti-semitism," says the President of the Union of Jewish communities of Poland Piotr Kadlcik. "It's more a broad dislike of Jews. What's worrying is a certain level of leniency of the prosecutor's office in relation to hate crimes, Nazi salutes and the vandalism of Jewish cemeteries."

"Very happy"

Barbara admits that she never planned to reveal her secret. It was Bogomila's persistent questioning about the past that forced her to change her mind.

Her daughter had been bombarding her with questions about her ancestors, desperate to discover more about her family.

After the initial shock of discovering she was Jewish, Bogomila says she is "very happy" with her new identity. She has even signed up for a course of Jewish studies in Lublin.

She attends the small Sabbath meal here in the community centre. And she recently visited the Nazi death camp Sobibor, where a quarter of a million Jews were murdered in the gas chambers.

I ask Bogomila if she has told her own children the news.

"I would like to tell them," she says, "but they are so small. Agatha is 10, Christopher is six and Julia is five."

"Are they really too young to be told?" I ask

"If I tell them, then my oldest child, Agatha, will probably go and tell her other grandmother - my mother-in-law," Bogomila explains.

"And my mother-in-law doesn't like Jews. As for my husband's grandmother, she hates Jews."

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