Polish President Tells Haaretz: Jews in Poland Feel Safer Than Jews in France

On state visit to Israel, President Andrzej Duda addresses plan to punish those referring to 'Polish death camps': 'How would you feel if a terrorist attack in Tel Aviv was described as an 'Israeli terror attack'?'

Polish President Andrzej Duda touching the Western Wall during a four-day visit to Israel, January 17, 2017.
Menahem Kahana/AFP

Polish President Andrzej Duda told Haaretz Thursday that Jews in Poland feel safer than Jews elsewhere in Europe, and that kippa-wearing Jews can walk around Polish cities more freely than their counterparts in France.

Duda, who was concluding his official four-day visit to Israel, praised what he described as 1,000 years of coexistence between Jews and Poles that was disrupted by the Nazi invasion in 1939. When asked whether he recognized that anti-Semitism had also existed before the Nazis came to power, Duda said, “Do you know of any country, other than Israel, where there is no anti-Semitism and where everyone is decent? There is no such country. What is important is that all of us, in a very direct way, will be against it.”

Duda also said that while there is still anti-Semitism in Poland today – “like in any other country” – it is not common and is severely punished. “Whoever supports anti-Semitism in Poland today removes himself from our community,” he added.

The president spoke of renewed interest in modern Poland for the Jewish culture that had disappeared, and praised Jewish cultural events occurring in his country. “Jewish culture is popular in Poland today because it raises positive memories,” he said. He added that he was sure “kippa-wearers in every Polish city are much safer today than in Western Europe – France, for example.”

Duda made the remarks at a meeting in Jerusalem of the nonpartisan forum Israel Council on Foreign Relations. In response to a question by the political scientist Prof. Shlomo Avineri, Duda directly addressed the part played by Poles in the persecution of Jews during World War II: “As in every nation, we had decent people who showed heroism and saved Jews, endangering their own lives – but there were also mean people,” he said.

Duda added that it was possible to understand why there were Poles who didn’t volunteer to save Jews, due to the danger to their own lives, but stressed that “those who acted despicably and inhumanely should be utterly condemned.”

Duda connected the fate of Jews and Poles in the Holocaust: “We did not invade Poland in 1939. We did not create the Holocaust,” he said. “We were conquered by Germany, which took away our freedom and killed six million of our citizens – half of them Jews.”

According to Duda, “Hitler wanted to kill the Jewish people, but also planned to kill the Slavs. Alongside the Jews of Europe, in the camps there were also others – Poles, for example – who were murdered and persecuted.”

Duda also responded to criticism of Poland for its legislation seeking to punish anyone who claims that the Polish nation was involved in the Holocaust or anyone who uses the term “Polish death camp” to describe Auschwitz. He said the law now being formulated is not meant to punish researchers and academics, but rather “those who spread lies and damage the country and the Polish people.”

Duda explained that “there were no Polish camps. This name relates, absurdly, to a geographical location. How would you feel if a terror attack in Tel Aviv were to be described as an ‘Israeli terror attack’? How would the Japanese feel if the atom bomb on Hiroshima was described as a ‘Japanese bomb’? This is a distortion of history.”