coalition government formed in May included openly antisemitic parties for the
first time since the 1920s. An assault on Poland’s chief rabbi was one of the
most serious antisemitic incidents perpetrated in several years. The 61st
anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp and the
60th anniversary of the pogrom in Kielce were commemorated.
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 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. All of these publications appear in Polish, except for
Dos Jidische Wort which is published in a bi-lingual Yiddish-Polish
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.
In March the Polish government announced its desire to change
the official name of the memorial site at Auschwitz-Birkenau. The government,
led by the Law and Justice Party, requested that the UNESCO-listed
name be changed from “Auschwitz Concentration Camp” to the “Former Nazi German
Concentration Camp Auschwitz-Birkenau." Polish officials stressed their
frustration at hearing references in the media to the Auschwitz-Birkenau
extermination camp as a "Polish concentration camp." The initiative
was supported by Yad Vashem.
In September, the agreement concerning the
building plan of the 12,800 square meter Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw was finally signed. The building was designed by Finnish architect
Rainer Mahlamäki, whose concept won the international architectural
competition for the museum. The multi-million project, which will be erected on
the site of the ghetto, is being partly financed by the Polish government.
There was little progress made in the
ongoing struggle for restitution of private property (both Jewish and
non-Jewish) seized during the war and in its aftermath) and this issue remains
a bone of contention. However, the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish
Heritage in Poland and the Jewish Communities continued to work toward the
restitution of items of Jewish communal property in accordance with existing
legislation and in 2006 a number of significant initiatives were pursued aimed
at preserving cemeteries, synagogues and other landmarks.
parliamentary organizations and extra-parliamentary groups
In May, Poland witnessed the creation of a new government coalition which, for the first time since
the 1920s, included openly antisemitic political parties. Besides his own
conservative-populist Law and Justice Party, the coalition, led by Jaroslaw
Kaczynski, comprises two radical nationalist parties. One of them is Self-Defense
(Samoobrona), some of whose members are neo-Nazi skinheads turned politicians,
such as Mateusz Piskorski, its foreign policy spokesman. Self-Defense leader
Andrzej Lepper holds an honorary doctorate from Ukraine’s MAUP university (see Ukraine). Lepper
claimed he was unaware that MAUP published virulently antisemitic literature
and refused to return the award. The other radical party, League of Polish
Families (Liga Polskich Rodzin − LPR), has a tradition that goes back
directly to the antisemitic brawls of the 1920s and the 1930s.
LPR leader Roman Giertych was appointed minister of education, and LPR
activists occupy a number of other posts: Piotr Farfal, 28, of All-Polish Youth
(Mlodziez Wszechpolska − MW − the LPR’s youth wing), became deputy
head of the state-run Polish Television (TVP). Farfal’s extremist past was
exposed by Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland’s largest newspaper, which quoted
from the anti-fascist magazine Never Again (Nigdy Wiecej). The
latter reported that in 1995 Farfal edited and published a racist skinhead
magazine entitled Front, whose third issue declared: “Harsh repression
against Jews is necessary if our nation wishes to develop independently and
healthily. It is time we rid ourselves completely of the Jews... Poles bribed
by Jewish money and those who sell to Jews deserve not only our contempt but
also severe punishment... Our cause is holy, Jews out of Poland!” In another edition of the magazine, Farfal himself stated: “We do not accept
cowards, collaborators or Jews.” Despite widely-held expectations among the
public and the media, Farfal did not resign from his position.
Faced with international pressure, most notably the
refusal of the Israeli embassy in Warsaw to cooperate with the education ministry
while the LPR leader held the post, Roman Giertych attended the commemoration
ceremony for Jedwabne victims on 10 July. Critics of Giertych have pointed out
that his overtures to the Jewish community (such as an interview with the
Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz) were in stark contrast to the antisemitism
that is rampant among the party’s rank and file. Giertych himself is honorary
chairman of the above-mentioned All Polish Youth, which organized a video-taped
neo-Nazi gathering in 2004, which the police were investigating. Leokadia
Wiacek, personal assistant to Roman’s father Maciej (LPR, Polish representative
to the European Parliament), was dismissed by the latter in November for having
been detected on the video giving the Nazi salute.
Early in July, the LPR Gdansk representative on the
town council, Grzegorz Sielatycki, was quoted on a TV program “Fight for the
Polish Word” as having written that the Jewish soul is sick, degenerate and
abnormal. LPR leader Roman Giertych claims Sielatycki was a teenager when he
wrote it and Sielatycki denies it. In 1998, he urged the removal of Jewish writers
from Polish literature.
The government paid for and built a large monument to Roman Dmowski, which
was unveiled on 11 November, despite a wave of public protest. Located in the
center of Warsaw, the monument honors the man known as the father of 20th
century antisemitism in Poland. Dmowski wrote, for example:
The Polish Commonwealth pursued a fatal policy during the two centuries prior to the
partitions, a policy which led to such Judaization of the country that it had
more of them than all the rest of the world… [becoming unofficially] the
European fatherland of the Jews… They regarded it as a new Palestine in which
they destined Poles for a future role more or less similar to that which the
non-Israelite majority of the population of Canaan had in biblical times... So
far our historiography has not yet explained the role of Jews in the
disintegration of the political life of the Commonwealth and its partition...
what we do know is that… their political behavior was often more than tellingly
contrary to Polish aims. ... The struggle against the obstacles placed in the
way of the Polish question by the Jews became, henceforth, the most difficult
task of Polish politics.
Dmowski wrote hundreds of pages in this vein and antisemitism lay at the core
of his political credo.
President Lech Kaczynski and his twin brother, Prime Minister Jaroslaw, prefer
to identify themselves with the legacy of Jozef Pilsudski, another early 20th
century politician credited with the rebirth of the Polish state. Pilsudski was
an authoritarian leader who orchestrated a military coup but never promoted
antisemitism. In fact he even banned Dmowski’s quasi-fascist organization the
Greater Poland Camp (Oboz Wielkiej Polski − OWP) in 1933. President
Kaczynski has condemned antisemitism on a number of occasions; however, the Law
and Justice Party appears to be increasingly embracing elements of the nationalist
ideology espoused by Dmowski.
Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, for example, has repeatedly
voiced his support for Radio Maryja, which frequently broadcasts antisemitic
messages while supporting the government. For example, on 27 March, Radio
Maryja’s regular commentator Stanislaw Michalkiewicz launched a vehement attack
on the “Holocaust industry,” stating “Jews have humiliated Poland internationally by demanding money... Kikes [Judejczykowie] sneak up behind
us to try to make our government pay them money on the pretext of these
demands.” Michalkiewicz further referred to “the rows kicked up by the Jews on
the site of the Auschwitz camp, inflation of the Jedwabne incident, and
currently, preparations for a huge propaganda event in Kielce, on the
anniversary of the so-called pogrom.” After initiating an investigation, the
Polish state prosecutor dropped the charges against Michalkiewicz for these
statements in August.
Member of the European Parliament Marcin Libicki, a
regional leader of Law and Justice in Poznan, sparked a controversy by
demanding the demolition of the synagogue in this city, built in 1907 and
destroyed by the Nazis in World War II. “The synagogue building has no
aesthetic value,” stated Libicki in an article published in a local edition of Gazeta
Wyborcza on 12 January. He claimed that the construction of the synagogue
in the early 20th century had been “an openly anti-Polish act” and part of “a
plan of Kulturkampf [cultural struggle] which led to a cultural
diminution of the architectural expressions of Polish and Catholic influence in
the city.” Concluding the article, Libicki (an art historian by profession)
proposed that the building be demolished. Although Libicki was not disciplined by
his party for this and for similar statements, he was criticized by Poznan city council and the local archbishop.
Extra-parliamentary Groups and Publications
“national-revolutionary” National Rebirth of Poland (NOP) continued to promote violent
forms of neo-fascism and antisemitism, including Holocaust denial, while the National-Radical
Camp (Oboz Narodowo Radykalny − ONR), which draws its members from among
neo-Nazi skinheads, increased its activity in 2006, especially in the south.
The Polish National Party (Polska Partia Narodowa) is led by extreme right
publisher Leszek Bubel, whose virulently antisemitic publications, such as the
weekly Tylko Polska (“Only Poland”), are distributed by the
government-owned company Ruch.
(“The Citizen”) is an important intellectual publication and an organizing
center on the edges of the extreme right and the extreme left. Contributors have
included Self-Defense MP Mateusz Piskorski and French Holocaust denier Roger
Another extreme right publication and website aiming to influence the
cultural spectrum is Phalanx, which promotes a variety of skinhead and
ANTISEMITIC and racist activity
While no official data is available for 2006 alone, the magazine Never
Again identified 227 hate incidents in the latter half of 2005 and first half
of 2006, most of them antisemitic, including an assault, desecrations, and
violent behavior and antisemitic slogans at football stadiums. On 27 May, Michael Schudrich, Poland’s chief rabbi, was punched and attacked with
pepper spray in a Warsaw street by a man shouting “Poland for the Polish!” This
was the first report of an antisemitic assault in many years. The police
arrested Karol G., a 33-year-old extreme-right activist and former
parliamentary candidate of the Polish National Party (PPN), who admitted to the
assault. The attack was widely condemned by the government and the media,
and President Kaczynski apologized personally to Schudrich. Three months
later, the assailant received a two-year suspended prison sentence.
On 16 May an anti-racist activist was stabbed and
nearly killed near his home in Warsaw. The attack was widely regarded as connected
to the neo-Nazi website Redwatch, operated by the Polish branch of the Blood
and Honor network, which had published the activist’s name on its list of
“enemies.” The Redwatch website published the photos and names of people allegedly
“involved in anti-fascist and anti-racist activities, including non-white
immigrants, activists of leftist associations and all kinds of supporters and
activists of the homosexual and pedophile lobby in the wider sense.” After a
lengthy investigation, the authorities in Poland arrested several people linked
to Redwatch (see also below) and one man who allegedly carried out the attack
on the activist. Nevertheless, the site continued to list names of “race
Earlier, in March, Redwatch posted threats against a
female history teacher from Bialystok who included classes about the Holocaust.
They published her picture, her telephone number and threats such as,
"We’ll stab you in the back," and called her "an enemy of the
Two Jewish student leaders from Warsaw received an
antisemitic message on their telephone, threatening to blow up the local
synagogue and put Jews in concentration camps. The police were investigating.
A Via Crucis Easter ritual held on 14 April at the
sanctuary of Kalwaria Zebzydowska, near the Auschwitz concentration camp reportedly
featured antisemitic elements. Dr. Shimon Samuels of the Simon Wiesenthal Center wrote a letter of protest to Polish Foreign Minister Stefan Meller.
such as “Sieg Heil” and “Jews to the gas,” were reported at a boat party
attended by about 200 skinheads in Agustow on 12 August.
RESPONSES TO racism and ANTISEMITISM
On the 61st anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau
extermination camp, 27 January, Szymon Szurmiej, chairperson of Poland’s Shalom Foundation, Cardinal Glemp, the primate of Poland, and Stanislaw Dziwisz,
archibishop of Krakow, appealed to the Polish people to light candles in memory
of the murdered Jews. An empty tram with a Star of David on it passed through
the streets of Warsaw. A modest commemoration ceremony took place in the city
of Auschwitz. On 26 January, a ceremony was held at the site of the Warsaw
Ghetto destroyed in World War II.
The 60th anniversary of the pogrom in Kielce (4 July) was marked by the unveiling of a monument and the sounding of sirens in memory of the
42 men, women and children (most of them Holocaust survivors) lynched by a mob
of several hundred Poles. The massacre has never been fully investigated. The
prosecutor of the Institute of National Remembrance, Krysztof Falkiewicz, said
Polish and Soviet special service involvement was being reviewed. At the
ceremony held on 4 July, an aide read a message from President Lech Kaczynski,
who was ill, which read: "I want to say... what happened in Kielce 60
years ago was a crime... a great shame and a tragedy for the Poles and the
Jews, so few of whom survived Hitler’s Holocaust.”
Official and Public Activity
In response to
an increase of racist and antisemitic manifestations in Poland, as well as to a EU Parliamentary report mentioning Poland as ranking high in intolerance and
antisemitism, Polish President Lech Kaczynski declared in early June that there
would be no tolerance of antisemitism. Agnieszka Magdziak-Miszewska, adviser on
Jewish Affairs to the prime minister, announced the creation of a police unit
to combat neo-Nazi activities. According to the Never Again Association, there are
about 500 racist and xenophobic Polish websites currently online.
After years of selling antisemitic literature, the Antyk Church bookshop finally closed down in October when Rev. Henry Malecki, operator of the shop,
did not renew the lease and returned to his parish. The Third Report on Poland published by ECRI (European Commission against Racism and Intolerance) had warned
about its incitement in 2004.
response to Holocaust denying statements made in Iran and the Iranian intention
to send researchers to Poland, Polish Foreign Minister Stefan Meller said in
February that they would not be allowed to study the Holocaust. The Museum of Auschwitz also stated that it would not allow access to its archives to Holocaust
On 5 June, Radio Polonia reported that a 21-year-old was arrested in
north-western Poland and was being charged with promoting fascism, initiating
racial hatred, participating in a criminal group, violating the privacy law and
operating the neo-Nazi website Redwatch.
Following the inclusion of extreme right parties in the government, a
mass protest movement of teachers and students was held under the banner “Giertych
Must Go” (Giertych Musi Odejsc). Throughout the year, the media regularly
exposed neo-Nazi activity of LPR skinhead activists. Never Again (Nigdy
Wiecej) magazine continued to be the main source of information about the
antisemitic extreme right, while the Never Again Association conducted anti-racism
activities in football, music and on the Internet. In cooperation with
Collegium Civitas, a Warsaw-based academic institution, the association
initiated a national hate crime monitoring program.