parliamentary and presidential elections held in Poland on 25 September
resulted in a nationalist right-wing victory and boosted the influence of the
antisemitic, Catholic nationalist Radio Maryja. The level of antisemitism
remained relatively high despite the paucity of Jews living in Poland.
the jewish community
There are some 5,000–10,000 Jews in Poland out of a total population of close to 40 million. The majority live in Warsaw, Wroclaw, Krakow and Lodz, but there are smaller communities in several other cities. There
are virtually no Jews in the eastern part of Poland where once large, important
communities, such as those of Lublin and Bialystok, existed.
The Union of Jewish Religious Communities
(Zwiazek Kongregacji Wyznania Mojzeszowego), or Kehilla, and the secular Jewish
Socio-Cultural Society (Towarsztwo Spoleczno-Kulturalne Zydowskie), or Ferband,
are the two leading communal organizations and these, together with other
Jewish groups, are linked by membership in the KKOZRP, which acts as a roof
organization. There is a Jewish primary school in Warsaw maintained by the
Lauder Foundation, which has been active in rehabilitating Jewish life in Poland, especially through youth projects. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee
is also active in Poland, particularly in social welfare. The leading Jewish
publications are the monthly Midrasz, Dos Jidische Wort, Jidele
for youth and Sztendlach for primary school children. Significantly, all
of these publications appear in Polish, except for Dos Jidische Wort
which is published in a bi-lingual Yiddish-Polish edition.
Important institutions are the Jewish
Historical Institute, with its revamped museum, the E.R. Kaminska State Yiddish
Theater in Warsaw and the Jewish Cultural Center in Krakow. There are centers
for Jewish studies in Warsaw University and the Jagiellonian University in Krakow.
The restitution of Jewish communal property
continues, but very slowly. In the meantime, legislation has yet to be enacted
addressing the issue of private property. In 2005, at the prompting of the
World Jewish Congress and a Landsmanschaft (group from the same town),
public latrines erected on the site of a Jewish cemetery in Szczelociny were
finally removed. Also in 2005, a memorial designed by the Polish-Jewish
architect Czeslaw Bielecki at the Radegest station, from which Lodz Jews were
deported to their death, was unveiled.
The design of Finnish architect Rainer
Mahlamaeki was chosen for the new Museum of the History of Polish Jewry in Warsaw. The land on which the museum is to be built was donated by the city of Warsaw, which also gave $13 million to the project. The Polish government contributed
another $13 million.
There is heightened awareness of Poland’s rich Jewish past and the tragedy that befell most Polish Jews. In 2005 the first
issue of the journal Zaglada, published by a special section of the Polish Academy of Science and devoted to the Holocaust, made its appearance. In recent
years there has been a spate of other publications on the same subject;
especially noteworthy are works of the Institute of National Memory.
Parliamentary organizations and extra-parliamentary groups
The 2005 Elections
The parliamentary and presidential elections held on 25
September 2005 radically changed the political map in Poland. Notably, it increased the influence of the antisemitic, Catholic nationalist Radio
Maryja, together with its associated TV and print media, as well as its founder Father Tadeusz Rydzyk. Their support
for the right-wing conservative Law and Justice party (Prawo i
Sprawiedliwosc − PiS) and its presidential candidate Lech
Kaczynski was a major factor in their dual electoral victory. The far right
antisemitic League of Polish Families (Liga Polskich Rodzin
− LPR) and the nationalist populist Self-Defense (Samoobrona)
party joined forces in an informal coalition backing the Law and Justice
The LPR, led by Roman Giertych, polled only 8
percent of the vote, after losing the support of Radio Maryja to the PiS. In
the second half of 2005 PiS appropriated the Catholic fundamentalist and
nationalist ideology of the LPR, and Radio Maryja became the main medium for
the promotion of Law and Justice policy. It should be noted that in the 1990s
Jaroslaw Kaczynski (who is widely believed to be the PiS’s real leader) was a
vocal critic of Radio Maryja and of the nationalist fundamentalist tendency.
His strategic U-turn and the adoption of this ideology may be seen as political
opportunism. Samoobrona, headed by Andrzej Lepper, received 10 percent of the
New Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz from the PiS, as well as his top cabinet
ministers, frequently traveled to Radio Maryja’s headquarters in Torun, in order to take part in marathon live broadcasts. and express support for the
controversial radio station. The government even promised to build a new
motorway from Warsaw to Torun for the convenience of the station’s bosses and
the state lottery announced it would co-finance Radio Maryja’s private
This intimacy between the country’s leadership and extremists is without
precedent in Poland. Meanwhile, Radio Maryja continued to promote antisemitic
views, including denial of the facts of the Jedwabne pogrom in 1941.
Although President Lech Kaczynski claims he is not a nationalist, in an
interview with the weekly Polityka, he stated “I believe in the need for
cooperation with people of national Catholic views in one political party.”
While the president’s circle includes some moderates, nationalist activists in the ruling party include
Parliamentary Speaker Marek Jurek. Known for years for his Catholic
fundamentalist views, Jurek made a much publicized trip to London in 1998 to
meet his hero, Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, while the latter was under
arrest in Britain.
Jurek’s traveling companion was Michal Kaminski, whose political record
includes mobilizing the local population of Jedwabne in northeast Poland in 2001 against commemoration of the wartime pogrom there. Kaminski, now a PiS MEP,
is on record as declaring his allegiance to the infamous slogan “Poland for the Polish,” which invokes memories of the antisemitic violence of the 1920s and
1930s. In the early 1990s Kaminski was a member of the neo-fascist National
Rebirth of Poland (see below; now part of Roberto Fiore’s European National
Front). Kaminski was among Kaczynski’s main campaign advisers.
Another PiS activist is MEP Marcin Libicki, until recently a leading
member of the National Right (PN), the official sister organization of
Jean-Marie Le Pen’s Front National in France. In the 1990s Libicki was a member
of the board of Prawica Narodowa (National Right) magazine, which
published, inter alia, Holocaust-denying texts written by the late
Belgian collaborator General Leon Degrelle. In March 2001 Libicki supported the
release, on ‘humanitarian grounds’, of Henryk Mania, who was convicted by a
Polish court of participation in killing Jews at the Chelmno death camp.
In 2005 Libicki launched a campaign to force the Polish public prosecutor
to take legal action against the website of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Los Angeles for alleged ‘anti-Polish’ content in its presentation of WWII history.
A leading MP elected on the Samoobrona
ticket is Mateusz Piskorski, a 28-year old graduate of Szczecin University,
active in radical neo-fascist circles since the mid-1990s as an editor and
publisher of several ultra-nationalist and racist magazines (such as Odala),
which espouse open admiration for Adolf Hitler as well as crude Holocaust
denial. Piskorski is also linked to Tomasz Szczepanski’s neo-pagan nationalist
association Niklot, which is active among skinheads and in the ‘blackmetal’
subculture. In 2005 he emerged as the party’s main spokesman on international
affairs and has strong links to the extremist Moscow-based Eurasian Movement,
led by Alexander Dugin. In December 2005 Piskorski traveled to Transnistria on
the territory of Moldova to demonstrate his support for the regime of the
self-declared republic ruled by a pro-Russian dictatorship of Russian
nationalists. He also participated in various events organized by the extremist
Belgian PCN (Parti Communautaire National-européen) and by the
conspiracy-minded international group Voltaire Network, which claims the 11
September 2001 terrorist attacks were organized by the CIA and the Mossad.
Another extremist who resurfaced in 2005 is Jaroslaw Tomasiewcz, a
veteran activist who promotes various ‘national-revolutionary’ movements as
well as the New Right ideology of Alain De Benoit. Tomasiewicz became a
political consultant for the Sobieski Institute, a think-tank connected to Law
and Justice. He also remains a leading contributor to the right-wing
anti-globalization magazine Obywatel (The Citizen), edited by Remigiusz
Okraska. This publication has repeatedly been criticized for providing a
platform for extremist views, such as those of Horst Mahler, former member of
the terrorist Red Army Faction (RAF), turned neo-Nazi activist, in Germany.
The government’s new orientation found immediate expression in the
prohibition and subsequent violent dispersal of an anti-discrimination march in
Poznan on 19 November. Seventy-five people were held for taking part in the
‘unlawful demonstration’ and right-wing politicians and the Catholic Church
accused the organizers of the march of promoting gay rights. The following week
a wave of protests and solidarity demonstrations swept throughout numerous
Polish cities, led by a broad coalition of anti-fascists, human rights
supporters, intellectuals, artists and various political groups voicing their
resistance to new government policy, especially the banning of demonstrations.
In cities such as Elblag, demonstrators were violently confronted by skinheads
and football hooligans, some belonging to the antisemitic National Rebirth of
Poland and LPR’s youth wing, All-Polish Youth.
The All-Polish Youth (MW) is a radical nationalist organization, which
continues the tradition of the violent, antisemitic youth organization of the
same name which was active in the 1920s and 1930s. In January Gazeta
Wyborcza, Poland’s largest newspaper, reported that antisemitic books,
such as Henry Ford’s The International Jew, were being used by the MW to
indoctrinate its members. Also in January, LPR and MW members were observed
singing antisemitic songs and shouting “Heil Hitler” on a train while on their
way to the LPR national congress. In October, Roman Giertych, leader of the LPR
and the MW, became chairman of the parliamentary committee on special services.
National Rebirth of Poland (Narodowe Odrodzenie Polski – NOP), lost much of its
influence in 2005 but is still active among skinheads and football hooligans.
It retains strong links to the international neo-fascist movement through its
participation in the European National Front, a federation of extreme right
groups from several countries.
The National Radical Camp (Oboz Narodowo-Radykalny − ONR), another
skinhead organization, grew rapidly in 2005. Among other activities, it
attracted publicity in June due to its ‘march on Myslenice’, an antisemitic
demonstration in a small town in the south of Poland, on the anniversary of a
pogrom against Jewish shopkeepers by extreme nationalists in 1936.
The Polish National Party (Polska Partia Narodowa − PPN) is a
radical antisemitic organization led by the racist publisher Leszek Bubel (see,
for example, ASW
2004). In 2005 it absorbed some young ex-members of the MW
disillusioned with the latter’s parliamentary course.
The level of
antisemitism remained relatively high despite the small number of Jews living
in Poland. The non-governmental anti-racist Never Again Association registered
about 120 incidents in 2005; a few were anti-Roma but most were antisemitic, especially
verbal attacks. For example, on 14 November a group of youths insulted Jewish
visitors to the site of Majdanek death camp. It was also reported that a group
of local residents protesting a proposed monument at the grave of the famous
18th century Rabbi Akiba Eger in Poznan, shouted “Jews cannot tell us what to
do,” and “This is a Catholic land and we don’t want a Jewish cemetery here” (Gazeta
Wyborcza, 14 Nov.). Also in November, ONR skinheads marched through Czestochowa chanting “This is Poland, not Israel.”
Crude antisemitism can still be observed on the Internet, such as the
increasingly popular website of the Polish section of the neo-Nazi-skinhead
Blood and Honour movement, and at football matches, where football fans routinely
call each other ‘Jews’ as a term of abuse.
speech to trade union leaders in Gdansk on 14 August, on the 25th anniversary
of the anti-communist Solidarity Movement, Father Henryk Jankowski, notorious
for his antisemitic rhetoric, said “anti-Catholic Masons, Jewish bankers and
hell-born atheist socialists” are imposing their agenda on the laws of Poland.
responses to racism and antisemitism
racism and antisemitism come mostly from civil organizations. For example, the
Polish Football Association has begun removing racist symbols from stadiums
following publication of a manual for football officials produced jointly with
the Never Again Association. On the official level, condemnation of
antisemitism is rarely followed by effective political and legal measures, as
demonstrated by the continuing distribution of antisemitic material by the
state owned company Ruch (including the publications of Leszek Bubel and the
On 23 February former president and Nobel Prize Laureate Lech Walesa
wrote an open letter to the bishops and faithful of the Catholic Church
accusing Radio Maryja of inciting antisemitism and demanding cancellation of
their license. Archbishop Slawoj Leszek Glodz, head of the church Mass Media
Council, replied that Walesa was emotional and that the station was merely
dealing with social and political issues.
The Never Again Association monitors racism and antisemitism and
publishes a journal Never Again (Nigdy Wiecej). It also runs
anti-racist educational campaigns, cooperating, among others, with the Polish
Football Association and the Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) network.
Together with the International Network Against Cyber Hate (INACH), it launched
an initiative to combat racist and antisemitic content on the Internet.