Polish Authorities Shrug Off anti-Semitism

Polish authorities have ignored or dismissed a worrying number of anti-Semitic incidents in recent months; Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski stands largely alone in combating them.

Roman Frister
Roman Frister
Roman Frister
Roman Frister

Polish hooligans recently felt the need to point out the obvious, scrawling "It's Poland here, not Israel," on tombstones in one of Bialystock's old Jewish graveyards.

The hooligans were likely rejecting the right of Jews who died in Poland – many of them in the Holocaust – to be buried there. But when they were caught and brought to trial, the judges reportedly let them off without punishment, noting that they had simply made a factual statement: Bialystock is indeed located in Poland rather than Israel.

The local newspaper that covered the story ridiculed the prosecution and court for failing to confront a clear case of anti-Semitism. But Poland has a history of shrugging off anti-Semitic incidents. There have been dozens of cases where complaints were not investigated by police, purportedly because the perpetrators were not identified or the damage was minor.

Fans at a soccer game in Oswiecim, formerly Auschwitz, who shouted "We'll do what Hitler did to the Jews" at the opposing team, were later exonerated on the grounds that the team had no Jewish players. Vandals who spray painted tombstones in Warsaw's old Jewish cemetery with swastikas and Stars of David on gallows went similarly unpunished.

So far this year, there have been seven recorded cases of cemetery desecration in Poland. The graffiti has included phrases like, “Jews to the gas,” “Free Palestine, jihad,” “Screw the chosen people” and simply “You're not wanted here.”

In late August, the road between Warsaw and a new airport 30 kilometers away featured similar slogans. Because many foreigners use the road, the Polish Foreign Ministry worked with the government of the adjacent village to cover the graffiti in white paint. But it reappeared two days later. Local police took no action, saying they didn’t have the manpower to guard the entire area at all times.

And this month phrases, like "White power," "Poland for Poles" and "Jews out!" showed up on the walls of the old synagogue in the village of Orali.

More sophisticated anti-Semitic activity takes place on the Internet, where anonymous authors post articles on the supposed subversive activities of Polish Jews.

Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, who is married to Pulitzer Prize-winning American Jewish journalist Anne Appelbaum, stands largely alone in combating anti-Semitism in Poland. And even he has had little success. The only person he has punished is a doctor from the town of Zezhov, who was dismissed from her job for refusing to treat Jewish patients.

On the national stage, the spotlight has recently been on an English-language book called, "Questions of Hell." The book is a collection of articles by Polish historians evaluating the behavior of their fellow citizens during the Holocaust. In some cases, non-Jews helped Jews, while in others they robbed them or turned them over to the Gestapo, Nazi secret police.

The book was well-received internationally and Polish embassies around the world published glowing reviews of it on their websites. But Polish nationalists responded angrily, demonstrating outside the Foreign Ministry and launching attacks in the right-wing press. They compared the book's positive press to the announcement posters that dot the walls of ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, saying it "blackens the national name."

Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski has stood largely alone in combating anti-Semitism in his country. Credit: Michal Fatta



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