Location of Statue Commemorating Righteous Gentiles in Warsaw Sparks Dispute

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WARSAW – As the celebrations and events commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising conclude, a public controversy has begun about where to place the statue commemorating Poland’s approximately 7,000 Righteous Gentiles. Most of the media also emphasize the issue’s political aspect, when it is supposed to remain in the artistic and planning spheres.

When the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra played near the monument to the heroes of the uprising in front of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, where part of the ghetto once stood, the idea arose to place the new statue there as well. Supporters of the idea say that since the area gets thousands of local visitors and tourists from abroad, it is the most suitable place for the statue. The opponents, Jews and non-Jews alike, see the issue as clearly political and an attempt to revamp the image of Nazi-occupied Poland. That is why they firmly oppose any direct connection between the monument to the heroes of the uprising and the statue commemorating the Righteous Gentiles.

It took only a few days for the question to become a point of controversy that revived the old debate about “good Poles” and “bad Poles.” Two descendants of Holocaust survivors, Agnieszka Graff and Raphael Szymczak, recently wrote to the newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza: “The form and tone of the conflict about the statue commemorating the Righteous Gentiles has become intolerable for us. Our memory concerning the ‘Righteous Gentiles’ has been hijacked by political disputes. Are there people who want to prove that the Poles suffered less than the Jews did? Do they want to prove that saving the life of a Jew counterbalances the awful truth about those who turned Jews over to the Nazis or the terrible pogrom in Jedwabne? That is why the national tone — or to put it more precisely, the nationalist tone — is so repulsive.”

The decision about where to place the statue commemorating these worthy people is in the purview of the Warsaw municipality. About three years ago, a decision was made to place it in a major square in the capital. For reasons not clear, the decision was never carried out.

The impressive events marking the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising raised the topic anew, and it will doubtless stay on the agenda until the project is completed. The Jewish community and non-profit organizations connected with it contributed a great deal toward the revival of Jewish life in Poland. It is a shame that so far, they have made no official statement about an issue that has public opinion here in an uproar.

People walking over the line marking the boundaries of the Warsaw Ghetto in the center of the Polish capital. April 2013 Credit: Reuters

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