Bogdan’s Journey: A Tale of Repentance, Compassion, and Healing in Kielce

The documentary “Bogdan’s Journey” is a compelling story that explores the themes of repentance, compassion, and healing in Kielce, a town in Poland. The film follows the journey of Bogdan Bialek, a non-Jewish leader of Polish origin, who became a key figure in transforming his community. It captures the essence of a town’s quest for forgiveness and healing, drawing parallels between ancient texts and modern-day struggles for reconciliation.

Teshuvah: A Path to Forgiveness

The film takes us on a transformative journey of teshuvah (Hebrew for repentance and redemption) as the community of Kielce undertakes an extraordinary path toward forgiveness and healing. It is a testament to the power of human kindness, empathy, and compassion.

Interpreting Ancient Texts: Midrashic Insights

One of the most compelling stories in ancient texts is Abraham’s negotiation with God to spare the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah from destruction. These cities were considered symbols of evil in the eyes of God. The transgressions committed by Sodom and Gomorrah have long been subjects of exploration in Jewish literature. The film presents a thought-provoking interpretation that is both captivating and insightful.

Jewish literature, particularly the “midrash,” offers interpretations of Sodom and Gomorrah’s transgressions. A performance from Tablet magazine presents the ethical question raised by the biblical account. Unlike other stories where God sees the potential for rescue, these cities symbolize irredeemable corruption.

“In the story of Sodom and Gomorrah — recounted in the Torah in Parshat Vayera, read this Shabbat — the Bible addresses the question of ethics head-on. These towns represent a human society so thoroughly corrupt that it is beyond the possibility of repair. There are other stories in which God finds human behaviour abhorrent, but there is usually some redemption (as in the story of Nineveh in the book of Jonah), or a remnant remains that holds the potential to rebuild (like the living things in Noah’s ark). Only here does an entire place get annihilated with fire and brimstone.”

In Ezekiel’s warning to Judah, he highlights Sodom and Gomorrah’s sin as arrogance and neglect of the poor. Ancient rabbis further elaborated on this charge through midrash, such as Genesis Rabbah.

“Only this was the sin of your sister Sodom: arrogance! She and her daughters had plenty of bread and untroubled tranquility, yet she did not support the poor and the needy.” (Ezekiel 16:49)

One such midrash tells of a young woman punished for showing compassion by giving food to a starving neighbour. This story depicts Sodom’s twisted justice system, where aiding the needy was punishable by death.

One of them said to her friend, “Why is your face so sickly?”
The other said to her, “Our food is all gone, and we are about to die.”
What did the first one do? She filled her pitcher with flour and switched the two, each girl taking what was in the hand of the other.
When [the people of Sodom] became aware of this, they took her and burned her.

The Holy Blessed One said, “Even if I wanted to keep silent, the judgment in the young girl’s case does not permit me to keep silent.”

This midrash’s portrayal of legal punishment for compassion echoes regimes where helping certain groups was a capital offence, akin to aiding Jews during a particular historical period.

Healing and Reconciliation in “Bogdan’s Journey”

The film “Bogdan’s Journey” presents a narrative of healing and reconciliation in the aftermath of the Jews perishing on Polish soil in 1946. Despite widespread denial and resistance in Kielce, Bogdan takes it upon himself to initiate and sustain a campaign urging the townspeople to confront and acknowledge the tragedy. Through Bogdan’s efforts, the film illustrates that a community can undergo repentance, voluntarily address historical atrocities, and evolve into a self-aware, compassionate, and empathetic entity.

For anyone connected to the Shoah or other profound collective traumas, we strongly recommend “Bogdan’s Journey.” The movie screening can be arranged at an institutional or private level by visiting its website.

After a screening, Bogdan and the other guests convened at a Tel Aviv restaurant. I shared this blog with Bogdan, who was deeply moved by it. With his permission, I have included his comments below.

Dear Abigail,

Thank you very much for your beautiful and touching text on your blog. If you agree, I would like to use it on the Jan Karski Society site. The meeting in Sherman Oaks was fascinating. For the first time, I was in a great home and thus an excellent company. I hope that we will have other possibilities to meet each other. Of course, if you will be in Poland, remember about my warmest invitation to Kielce. I will try to buy a book which you recommend.

Best regards,


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