Anti-Semitism Without Jews

The Krakow Jewish festival is being held for the 16th time this year. There is a double paradox in Poland today - Jewish revival without Jews and anti-Semitism without Jews.

There is a double paradox in Poland today - Jewish revival without Jews and anti-Semitism without Jews. The Krakow Jewish festival is being held for the 16th time this year and organizers expect more than 10,000 people to attend its closing concert on Saturday night.

Almost nothing of Krakow's glorious Jewish past remains, yet the festival it hosts has become the most colorful and talked about Jewish cultural event in Europe, attracting many tourists from all over the world.

This year the festival is marked by the concern and confusion raised by several anti-Semitic utterances and incidents over the past year. These coincided with the rise to power of right-wing parties, replacing left-wing president, Alexander Kwasniewski after a decade in office.

A few months ago President Lech Kaczynski, of the conservative Law and Justice party, added the nationalist right-wing parties League of Polish Families and Self-Defense Party to the coalition. Both these parties have a record of anti-Semitic utterances and displays of intolerance toward other minorities. They objected to Poland's joining the European Union and support the nationalist Catholic radio station Maria, which is known for its anti-Semitic broadcasts and Holocaust denial.

A few years ago neo-Nazi and skinhead groups were members of the Self-Defense of the Republic of Poland party. Last week Poland's foreign minister hastened to reject rumors that Holocaust studies were being stopped due to the expansion of "patriotic studies." The attack on Poland's Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich last month, was widely covered by the media, and calls were made - even from within the government - to change the name of the Auschwitz extermination camp because it was bad for Poland's image. These evoked worldwide denunciations and were castigated by editorials of newspapers such as The New York Times.

Two right-wing party leaders - Roman Giertych, head of the League of Polish Families, the recently appointed education minister, and Andrzej Lepper, head of the Self-Defense party, agriculture minister and deputy prime minister, launched a media offensive to mend Poland's tarnished image. The offensive included recent interviews in the Jewish American media.

At the same time, the government and president are promoting the ambitious project of building a museum for the history of Poland's Jews. The corner stone laying is planned for this year.

The Poles, who hoped funds for the $58 million project would be raised from the Jewish nation, found Jewish philanthropes were not enthusiastic about financing the museum. Apparently, most of the financing will come from Poland, mainly from the government and the Warsaw municipality - $26 million - and the German government - $6.3 million. Foreign contributions to the sum of $7 million will come mainly from the United States. At least $20 million is still required to ensure the construction and educational activity of the museum, which is to present 1,000 years of Jewish life, emphasizing the Jews' contribution to Poland and the entire world.

Last week the museum project was boosted by Poland's business community, 60 of whose leaders convened especially to express their support for the project and intention to contribute to it. They signed a support petition and listened to an address by Poland's former foreign minister, Vladislav Bartoszewski, who was recognized by Yad Vashem as a Righteous Gentile for saving Jews in the Holocaust.

Bartoszewski explained why the Jewish museum was an important initiative, which would also encourage foreign investments. But it is hard to believe that in an air saturated by anti-Semitism, in the country with the highest unemployment rate in the EU, the government will manage to allocate the money it has pledged for the museum.

In 1993 American Jewish author Philip Roth published his novel Operation Shylock, presenting an imaginary scenario to return the Jews from Israel to Poland. Lech Walesa, as leader of the anti-Communist Solidarity movement and before becoming president, tries in the book to restore the cultural and economic lever the Jews had given Poland for 1,000 years. In a style reminiscent of the theater of the absurd Roth juxtaposes the historic Jewish dilemma between Zionism and Diaspora and between anti-Semitism and wealth in the life of Diaspora Jews.

Unlike Roth's alternative history, the Jews are not returning to Poland. But there is quite a high profile Israeli economic activity there and many thousands of Israelis of Polish origin are standing in line to receive Polish passports, which would enable them freedom of movement and perhaps a living in the EU.

But the paradoxes in Polish society's attitude toward the Jews continue to fluctuate between the revival to its Jewish affiliation in the Krakow festival and museum plan, and the outbursts of anti-Semitism, rooted deep in considerable parts of Polish society.