Kielce, February 26th, 2019 – “The current diplomatic crisis between Poland and Israel does not affect our support and friendship with the Jewish people and the State of Israel”, Polish pro-Israel leader Edward Cwierz said at a national conference in Kielce, in south-central Poland, on Saturday. “Polish-Israeli bonds are unbreakable”, he added.
For Cwierz, who had invited Christian pro-Israel leaders from across Poland to a one-day national consultation, diplomatic crises between Poland and Israel are nothing new. At his first consultation a year ago, Polish-Israeli relations were rocked by a Polish legislation which aimed at criminalizing any suggestions of Polish complicity in the Holocaust. The crisis was later solved as the law was changed, eliminating criminal penalties. But last week a new crisis erupted as newly appointed Israeli Foreign Minister, Israel Katz, stated in a TV-program: “Every Pole sucked antisemitism out of their mother’s breast.”
“Accusing a whole people group in this way is both unfair and unhelpful”, ECI Director Tomas Sandell said on Saturday. “There were those Poles who collaborated with the Nazis during the Holocaust and others who risked their lives saving Jews, whilst most Poles remained indifferent. Few nations, if any, have a clean track record when it comes to standing up for the Jewish people before or during the Holocaust. At the refugee conference in Evian in July 1938, all participating nations, except for the Dominican Republic, refused to take in any Jewish refugees from Nazi-Germany and Nazi-occupied Austria when there was still a chance of saving Jewish lives. Pointing the finger at one single nation leads nowhere. The relevant question is what we are doing today. Poland has a been a good friend of Israel at the EU in Brussels. Even though political emotions are running high at the moment, this diplomatic crisis will also pass”, he said.
The conference, which also featured Israeli Ambassador to Poland, Anna Azari, took place in a converted factory building where on July 4th, 1946, an angry Polish mob left their work to join a pogrom in which 42 Jews were killed. Kielce is today known for this, the deadliest pogrom against Polish Jews since World War II.
Today part of the same factory building serves as the base for Edward Cwierz and his foundation which is building bridges of reconciliation between Jews and Poles. Last summer the foundation hosted the first Jewish festival in Kielce after the war and it became an instant success.
“Nobody asked us why we did it, but rather why we waited so long to do it”, he explained at the conference. It was clear that the Poles had waited for years for Jewish culture to return to this city which before the war had a thriving Jewish community of some 25,000 people. In neighbouring towns similar initiatives have been introduced to commemorate and celebrate expressions of Jewish culture.
“We cannot change the past or repair the damage done, but we can take a stand against modern day antisemitism and show our solidarity with Israel”, Cwierz added. “We remember the 1000 years of shared history and are grateful to the many generations of Jews for their significant and priceless contributions to the development of Poland.”
It is estimated that up to 3 million Polish Jews were killed in the Holocaust. Only ten per cent of the pre-war Jewish population in Poland survived. On Sunday afternoon Sandell visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps to pay tribute to the 1.1 million people who were murdered there by the Nazis. Ninety per cent of those killed were Jews.
In a brief statement he said: “God created man but man created this hell. Auschwitz-Birkenau is an example of a man-made hell here on earth. It is our responsibility to make sure that this will never be repeated. With the rising level of antisemitism in Europe, it is the duty of every European citizen to either visit the death camps or read and learn about this greatest crime against mankind on European soil. We can never remain indifferent.”