Ten members of Jewish Care’s bnei mitzvah course have paid tribute to the memory of William Kaczynski, a refugee they met on the programme.
Kaczynski, who died this year at the age of 82, worked as a hat-maker, establishing the largest factory in Europe before retiring at Jewish Care’s Selig Court in Golders Green
Fleeing Nazi Germany in 1939, he fled Berlin with his family after the Kristallnacht pogrom and was interned for 10 months in Rushen Camp on the Isle of Man upon arrival to the UK.
Participants in Jewish Care’s bnei mitzvah programme dedicated their graduation ceremony to Kaczynski after meeting the milliner and author during early sessions of the programme where Selig Court tenants shared memories of their own bar- and batmitzvahs.
The bnei mitzvah group had been invited to attend his second barmizvah, due to take place in June, before he passed away in March.
“William was really fun, engaging and entertaining to talk to, there was a lot to talk to him about and I really connected with him when I met him,” said 11-year-old Hasmonean Girls School pupil Orielle Brodie.
“It was so interesting to hear about his book and his experiences during the Holocaust. I was really looking forward to celebrating his second barmitzvah, which he was excited at talking about, with him,” she said.
“I was sad that he wasn’t able to celebrate it. I think it’s really nice and special to dedicate our bnei mitzvah programme graduation ceremony to him.”
Speaking at the ceremony, Kaczynski’s daughter Tania paid tribute to her father, saying: “He is missed by many friends old and new and I hope that he can see us now from up above.”
“He had always been full of life, ready to meet new challenges and keen to meet new people and exchange stories,” she said.
She also wished a “big mazel tov” to all ten bnei mitzvah participants, describing her father’s affection for the group.
“He was a natural feminist and encouraged me and my sisters to pursue our dreams without barriers or limitations,” she said. “So, the meeting between these young women and my old father, was a meeting of bnei mitzvot but also the ideas that he held dear. He often spoke of how much he was looking forward to attending this delightful ceremony.”