Summary of the Year

INTRO

When we were working on our first English-language issue of CHIDUSZ in December 2015, we knew that big changes were coming in Poland. A few months earlier, in October of that year, the right-wing party Law and Justice (PiS) had won the parliamentary election, getting over half of all the seats in  Parliament and giving it enough votes to push through any bill. Many of the new MPs were eager to introduce a new order in the country. Some of them are politicians connected to nationalist, extreme right-wing movements, such as All-Polish Youth (Młodzież Wszechpolska) or the National Movement (Ruch Narodowy). All of them have one thing in common: a vision of Poland that would be as isolated from the European Union as possible, and based on very narrowly understood Catholic values. Their ideology of a “Great Poland” includes extremely xenophobic views, and they question and undermine the achievements of those who, in their opinion, are “not Polish enough” (a very capacious category).

One year later, the public debate has slowly but surely become dominated by people who can scarcely contain their fascist sympathies and who promote historical revisionism. Needless to say, it is very damaging for all that we managed to achieve in the difficult realm of Polish-Jewish reconciliation. There is scant margin for critical reflection during celebrations of various anniversaries commemorating crimes committed by Poles on their Jewish neighbors and co-citizens. The newly elected politicians champion an alternative version of history that shifts the blame and relativizes the crimes. Some go as far as to deny historical facts altogether.

The most popular topics of 2016 were greater restrictions on the already restrictive anti-abortion law and limited funding for IVF treatments. Sometimes another topic appeared on the margins of this ideological debate, though a bit less visibly of late: the refugee (usually referred to as “Islamists”) problem. The current government stands firm in its conviction not to take in any of the refugees fleeing a war in their own country because of the terrorist and cultural threat they supposedly pose for Poland.

We discussed many of these topics in CHIDUSZ over the past months. Some of our articles focused directly on the Jewish community in Poland, while others presented a Jewish perspective on nation-wide issues with the intent of breaking through the Catholic narrative that is shaping the national debate. We wanted to emphasize that Jewish life in Poland does not function in a void, detached from the contemporary issues our country is struggling with. We thought it particularly important to pay attention to the place assigned to various minority groups in Poland, a country that is currently being redefined by a radical change of government.

Below you will find a chronological outline of recent events we consider the most important for Jewish life in Poland, including those we think will be particularly interesting for our readers abroad.

SEPTEMBER 2015

By the end of the summer, we all had to consider what the immigrant crisis meant not only for Poland, but also for the Jewish community. We used the phrase “crisis” to refer to events on the Slovak-Austrian and Austrian-German borders, and at the Munich train station. A massive wave of Syrian refugees washed over Europe, but then the situation was somewhat assuaged. The crisis was contained and replaced with the new reality of temporary refugee camps and hundreds of thousands of people whose future had to be managed.

Europe will be taking care of the refugees and their future without us, since in January 2016 Beata Szydło, the Prime Minister of Poland from the Law and Justice party, announced that Poland, a country of 38 million people, will not be able to take in one hundred refugees. And as the quota of refugees to be taken in grew smaller and smaller, the nationalist groups got more and more angry and vocal in inciting hate towards Muslims.

Konstanty Gebert, a Jewish publicist and journalist, commented on the situation Europe found itself in (as it is still more of an European issue than a Polish one):

We have two roads to choose from. First, we can accept the situation, which means that those who come to our country must adjust to us, but we also must adjust to them, and nobody likes that. Second, we lock ourselves up in Fort Europe, which consequently will mean using force against people who seek protection and are asking for our help.

Unfortunately, if push comes to shove, many people in Poland would choose the latter option. According to the nationalist right, which is finding more and more supporters in Poland, “Islamists” are perceived as a fundamental threat to our country.

Konstanty Gebert also pointed out that the flow of refugees is forcing European Jews to ask themselves all kinds of questions:

The Jewish community is being forced to deal with yet another dilemma. While our entire historical experience should encourage us to identify with the immigrants, the fact that we are currently part of a wealthy Europe means that we feel threatened by them. This feeling plays right into the hands of the extreme right, which would like to see ourselves as “Aryans of honor.” Compared to all those Muslims, Arabs, and Africans, they argue, we are almost part of the white race. And they assure us that we will be defended by a better Europe. I for one am not sure that I want to be defended by fascists, neither are the Jews of Europe. We are thus faced with a fundamental identity crisis.

OCTOBER 2015

In May 2015, Andrzej Duda was chosen as the new President of Poland. In his victorious campaign, he used a slogan that later became the symbol of an avalanche of changes in Polish politics. Soon after the parliamentary elections (October 25) were won by Law and Justice, “good change” permanently entered the public discourse as an ironic description of the new order that the government is trying to introduce in the country. The “good changes” so far include: changes in public media management, already politicized to the point of absurdity; the thoughtless and pointless reform of the education system and school curricula; unlawful dismantling of the Constitutional Tribunal, which is supposed to ensure that those in power are checked by the Constitution. The current government has also become significantly, almost obscenely closer to the Catholic Church (Jesus Christ was crowned the King of Poland on November 19, 2016). However, this sudden intimacy with Catholic leaders has little to do with promoting authentic Christian values and much more to do with promoting a “climate of xenophobia and intolerance, directly linked to the political change and enjoying the government’s approval.” [Konstanty Gebert for CHIDUSZ, October 2016].

The “good change” also means shifting the focus of our historical narrative and interfering with Polish culture, which becomes more evident in the following months.

NOVEMBER 2015

While the world stood in solidarity with the victims of the tragic Paris terrorist attacks, Polish nationalists (the National Radical Camp and All-Polish Youth) decided to get together and quickly remind everyone who is responsible for all the evil in Europe. On November 18, they burned an effigy of a Jew during a demonstration against Muslim immigrants.

It may come as a surprise that the demonstration was organized against Muslims and in defense of Christian values, but it was a Jewish figure that got burned. This, however, can be explained by the nationalist logic in which Jews are omnipotent figures representing those who rule Poland, Europe and the world. Our magazine endorses a different perspective. It was summed up very accurately by Michael Schudrich, the Chief Rabbi of Poland, who has said that burning the effigy of a Jew clearly showed that there is “a common source of hatred towards both immigrants and Jews.” It doesn’t matter whether a Jewish or a Muslim effigy is on fire, the nationalist message remains the same: we will not accept anyone different than us, we will fight them. Who can say where the limits of aggression lie when it’s so easy to set an effigy on fire?

It’s remarkable that the city that was chosen as the European Capital of Culture for 2016 and advertises itself as “the meeting place” did nothing to stop the burning of a Jewish effigy in the middle of the Market Square. The police was there, securing the (legally planned and organized) demonstration, but it stood by passively throughout the event. However it must be  emphasized that the next day the Mayor of Wrocław issued an official apology and directed the case to the prosecutor’s office. A month later he attended an event in the Wrocław Synagogue and repeated his promise to fight racism and xenophobia. The nationalists immediately labelled him an enemy of “real Poles” and a Jew.

Many organizations, religious groups and private residents of Wrocław and Poland expressed their dismay and disapproval of this type of act. The Jewish community in Wrocław received numerous letters of support.

The burning of the effigy shook the entire Jewish community in Poland and soon became a symbol of the changes taking place in the country. Racism and anti-Semitism were not all that visible before. For some time, however, it seems that the current government has not been so quick in condemning such acts.  This issue turned up in many interviews and articles published in CHIDUSZ in 2016, the most important for us being “A Wrocław Triptych”, and the interview with Aleksander Gleichgewicht, the head of the Jewish Community of Wrocław.

DECEMBER 2015

After a series of not very optimistic events, it’s finally time for some good news. After several months of renovation, the small synagogue in Wrocław was opened on Hanukkah 2015.

The small synagogue is located in a building dating back to 1901, adjacent to the White Stork Synagogue (which was restored in 2010). It served the Jewish community of Wroclaw before and after the war. After the fall of communism and the revival of the local Jewish community, it became a place of prayer again. The building had fallen into disrepair and it had been obvious for a long time that repairs were long overdue. The problem was that there was no documentation to serve as a guide for the renovations. In preparation for restoration, a bit of paint was scraped off the ceiling, revealing a rare Art Nouveau motif. The decision was made to maintain the entire interior in the same style.

The renovation, carried out by the Bente Kahan Foundation, would not have been possible if not for the subsidy that the Jewish community received from the Wrocław city council and the Taube Foundation for Jewish Life and Culture. Rafał Dutkiewicz, the Mayor of Wrocław, attended the opening of the synagogue during which he danced around the Torah wearing a yarmulka. A photo taken of him during the dance soon appeared on news websites.

FEBRUARY 2016

After almost two years of dedicated efforts, two families – the descendants of Jews born in pre-war Breslau – managed to collect all the city permits required to commemorate their ancestors with Stolpersteine (memorial stones). They were the first Stolpersteine to be installed in Wrocław and in Poland thanks to a private initiative. One would like to think that the Zorek and Treitel families managed to clear the path for other families who would like to fund Stolpersteine in Wrocław, but, unfortunately, the latter were trapped in a never-ending bureaucratic loop. We describe their struggle here, in the introduction to the article that tells the story of Warren Zorek, one of the children sent from Breslau to Great Britain in a Kindertransport in early 1939.

MARCH 2016

In March 1944, Germans murdered the Ulma family in Markowa (Podkarpacie district), after the family was denounced by a Polish police officer in the General Government, for hiding eight Jews from the Goldman family. All eight Ulma family members were killed: Józef and Wiktoria (nine months pregnant), their six children (the eldest was just eight years old), together with the Jews they were hiding. In 2008, a decision was made to build a museum to commemorate the Ulma family and other Polish families murdered by Germans for helping Jews. The project was backed by the erstwhile government. The Ulma Family  Museum of Poles Saving Jews in World War II was opened 8 years later, on March 17, 2016 in Markowa.

The opening ceremony was attended by the President of Poland Andrzej Duda, Polish archbishops (who blessed the building), the Chief Rabbi of Poland, Michael Schudrich (who attached a mezuzah at the entrance), and the Israeli Ambassador in Poland Anna Azari.

During the ceremony Andrzej Duda said: “As President of the Republic of Poland, I want to say loud and clear: anyone who preaches and incites hatred among nations, anyone who preaches, sows or incites antisemitism, tramples on the grave of the Ulma family, tramples on their memory, the ideals they pursued as Poles and for which they sacrificed their lives: for dignity, decency, justice, and the most fundamental respect that every person deserves. May this museum (…) serve as a great testimony to everyone of this tragic but also edifying memory, and a warning about what contempt and hatred can make of people.”

However, the guest list also included Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, the director of a controversial and often anti-Semitic, religious right-wing radio station called „Radio Maryja.”

The museum founders wanted the opening to attract as many media representatives as possible, especially from abroad. Yet, the ceremony was a far cry from the opening of the core exhibition of the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in October 2014, which attracted 650 journalists and was discussed in-depth in all the important media outlets abroad. The POLIN exhibition was carefully prepared and designed by an international team of renowned historians, while the Markowa exhibition was created mainly as means of improving Poland’s self-esteem and its image abroad.

It is extremely important to respect and preserve the memory of those who helped and saved Jews. It is worth mentioning that some of this work is being done by a very good website supported by POLIN Museum: the Polish Righteous (sprawiedliwi.org.pl).

The Ulma Family Museum caused a stir primarily because it serves as a tool in the government’s new politics of memory. The goal is to rewrite the “difficult“ bits of history by highlighting the engagement of Poles in saving Jews, while marginalizing or even completely erasing brutal acts of anti-Semitism before, during, and after the war: pogroms, murder, betrayals and the hunting down of Jews and the looting of their possessions. Recently, both the leader of Law and Justice Jarosław Kaczyński and the Minister of International Affairs Witold Waszczykowski spoke about ending the „culture of shame” (which means anything and everything that could blemish the crystal-clear image of Poles and Poland). The newly-built museum is part of that policy.

The museum is missing the point because the point is very difficult to deal with and is a source of great unease. Jan Grabowski and Dariusz Libionka, professors at the Polish Center for Holocaust Research in Warsaw, wrote:

Markowa is a village where Poles took great risks to hide Jews. It is also a place where Poles caught and cruelly murdered Jews. Sometimes the very same Poles would help Jews on one occasion and murder or give them away on another. There were a great many places like that in Poland under German occupation.

A lot of time will have to pass before we can tell the full story in Poland.

(More on the instrumental treatment of the Polish Righteous here.)

APRIL 2016

Building on the achievements of different Jewish organizations in the past 25 years in Poland, Hillel International, an organization dedicated to empowering young Jews all over the world, opened its branch in Warsaw on April 18, 2016. This Jewish organization serves Jewish university students and young professionals with creative and dynamic cultural and educational programs that allow them to investigate and strengthen their Jewish identity. Hillel is a well-established world student organization, and Warsaw boasts the most lively cultural and social scene in the country. Eric Fingerhut, the President and CEO of Hillel International, spoke to CHIDUSZ about the opening of another Jewish organization in Poland’s capital:

We have a formula; we know how to encourage young people to take part in our activities no matter where we are based. Otherwise we would have never had the courage to open an office in Warsaw.

The Warsaw branch of Hillel is managed by Magda Dorosz, one of the founders of CHIDUSZ.

***

On April 9, POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews was awarded the European Museum of the Year in San Sebastian. It was the crowning achievement of the Museum’s creators, who worked hard and with great dedication. POLIN won against almost 50 European institutions. We spoke about POLIN in depth in our 2015 English language issue of CHIDUSZ, providing what we hoped was a thorough critical analysis of this institution. While we did have some objections, the museum, with its exceptional attention to intellectual and historical content (thanks to the involvement of the best specialists in Jewish history), has no match in Poland. Apart from the core exhibition, POLIN also organizes temporary exhibitions. Last year it hosted an outstanding exhibit on “Frank Stella and the Synagogues of Historic Poland”.

***

April 19, 2016 was the 73rd anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. A new plaque was unveiled in Warsaw on this occasion, commemorating the Swedish diplomat and the Righteous Among the Nations, Raoul Wallenberg. One of the streets between Świętokrzyska Street and Grzybowski Square in Warsaw was renamed in his honor on that day.

MAY 2016

May brought less optimistic news of a nationalist-fascist strain again. Photographs of the Mayor of Wrocław Rafał Dutkiewicz and Professor Zygmunt Bauman were burned during an anti-immigrant march in Wrocław on May 1, 2016. The Mayor was shown wearing a yarmulka which was supposed to symbolize his affinity with Jews. The photo of Prof. Bauman, a world-famous sociologist and a Jew, was burned because of his communist past. It was not the first time Bauman had been subject to attacks from nationalist quarters. In 2013, ultra-nationalist protestors had to be pacified by the police after they broke into a lecture hall and interrupted Bauman’s lecture at the University of Wrocław.

While incinerating photographs of Jews and their allies, the protesting nationalists also chanted: “Islamists will hang from the trees, thick as leaves” and “Poland is not Brussels, Islam is not welcome here.” The slogans were clearly anti-Islamic, and the symbols burned were, again, Jewish.

***

The dynamic Jewish Community Center in Warsaw is now the heart of social and cultural Jewish life in Poland. On May 21, a joint farewell was held at the JCC headquarters for two Jewish youth organizations: the Polish Jewish Youth Organization (ŻOOM), as well as its predecessor, the Polish Union of Jewish Students (officially dissolved in 2007). ŻOOM had been winding down for some time, and as its members grew up, they naturally gravitated towards other organizations.

JULY 2016

In July, the award for the most embarrassing politician in the “good change” camp went to Anna Zalewska, the Minister of Education. When one of the most influential TV programs invited her for an interview on educational reform, she shocked the audience with her historical ignorance and outrageous statements. Minister Zalewska tried to debate and undermine indisputable facts regarding Polish-Jewish history.

First, Minister Zalewska claimed that the facts on burning the Jews alive in Jedwabne in 1941 had been “seriously misrepresented.” She also claimed that participation of Poles in the pogrom amounted to nothing more than an opinion spread by Jan Tomasz Gross, a Princeton University historian greatly disliked and eagerly discredited by right-wing politicians. She added that there are many historians who describe the pogrom “in a way that is drastically different” from Gross. It seems that the Jews were murdered by some sketchy, anonymous anti-Semites of no particular nationality.

The same conversation also raised the issue of the Kielce pogrom, which had marked its 70th anniversary only two weeks before the interview. Once again, Minister Zalewska was unable and/or unwilling to assign any responsibility for the crimes against Jews to Poles. After a lot of stuttering, she confessed that she “preferred to look at things from a distance” and she would rather that Poles themselves decided who actually murdered the Jews. And all this after President Duda had clearly stated in his official speech that it was a crime committed by one group of citizens against their fellow citizens.

Meanwhile the press reported that during the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Jedwabne pogrom signatures were collected in support of a bill proposal approved by the mayor. The bill would allow for the exhumation of the Jews murdered in Jedwabne. Most of the town residents have signed the proposal. For some, this is the only way to shift all the blame for the Jedwabne pogrom on the Germans. The current government is exceptionally fond of exhumations as tool of unearthing the truth. For example, in 2016 a number of the Smolensk plane catastrophe victims of 2010 were exhumed despite their families’ protests. The government was hoping that the disinterments would provide proof that the catastrophe was in fact a Russian conspiracy. Considering the reliability of right-wing historians, one can easily predict what the outcome of the Jedwabne exhumation would be. Yet the government has not proceeded with this exhumation or any other exhumation of a Jewish mass grave.

***

On July 29, Pope Francis was the third pope in history to visit the former German concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. The tour was part of his visit in Poland for the World Youth Days, a popular Catholic event.

Unlike his predecessors, Francis decided not to deliver any speech on the grounds of the concentration and extermination camp. He focused on silent prayer throughout his visit. After arriving to Birkenau, he also met with Righteous Among the Nations, an idea proposed by the Chief Rabbi of Poland, Michael Schudrich. Konstanty Gebert commented on the Pope’s visit for CHIDUSZ, emphasizing the importance of this gesture. Francis paid his respects not only to the victims but also to the heroes, who are often unappreciated and instrumentalized in Poland.

When the Chief Rabbi of Poland, Michael Schudrich, thanked Pope Francis for his silent prayer, the Pope answered: “Pray for me.” Several decades ago, such words would never have been heard from the head of the Catholic Church. The request was simple, yet emphasized how easily Francis engaged with Judaism.

Pope Francis also held a private meeting with representatives of the Jewish community in Kraków.

AUGUST 2016

The Sopot Literary Festival was held on August 18-21 and was without a doubt the most important event of 2016 for lovers of Hebrew literature. As usual, the meeting with Etgar Keret was a big success, since he is probably the most known and popular Israeli author in Poland. Dror A. Mishani, Dorit Rabinyan, Yael Neeman and comic book creator Rutu Modan also visited the festival to promote their books. CHIDUSZ published interviews with most of them.

SEPTEMBER 2016

“Drejdel,” a Jewish nursery opened in Warsaw on September 1, the first day of school. It was created in cooperation with the Jewish Community of Warsaw and is located in a building at Twarda Street, neighboring the Ryfka and Zalman Nożyk Synagogue. The opening of a nursery is a sure sign that the Jewish community is rooted enough to pass Jewish traditions to the next generations.

OCTOBER 2016

On the first Monday of October, there was a massive wave of demonstrations and protests across the country, the biggest in years. The Black Protest of October 3, 2016 (inspired by the women’s strike in Iceland in 1975) united hundreds of thousands of women who decided to speak out against the anti-abortion bill proposed by extreme Catholic-affiliated organizations and supported by Law and Justice. The draft proposed an almost absolute ban on abortion (even in cases of rape, incest or seriously damaged fetus), as well as penalization of women who had an abortion. Women protested by wearing black that day, not going to work or university and going out into the streets in the tens of thousands in larger cities. The scale of the protests forced the ruling party to back down. However, a week later Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of Law and Justice, declared “We [Law and Justice] will do all we can to ensure that even very difficult pregnancies, even those when the child has no chance of survival or is extremely deformed, will be delivered so the child can be baptized, receive a name and have a funeral.”

The abortion law and the IVF treatments are issues that our current government is exceptionally involved in, imposing its righteous moral vision on Polish women. The Polish Episcopate and its representatives are also eager to chime in, regularly releasing statements that are scandalous or flat-out absurd. One such example is Archbishop Henryk Hoser, who, when asked what women should do if they get pregnant from rape, claimed that “in such situations the stress is so strong that pregnancy is much less likely to occur than it would in normal circumstances.” He went on to add that should a raped woman give birth, she can put the child up for adoption.

NOVEMBER 2016

The 9th of November marked the 78th anniversary of Kristallnacht pogroms. In Wrocław (formerly German Breslau), the second largest synagogue in the country was burned and its remains were blown up, during the night of November 9-10, 1938. The New Synagogue belonged to the liberal faction of the Jewish community of Breslau, and was – along with the Jewish Theological Seminary – one of the most significant centers of reform Judaism of the early 20th century in Europe.

The synagogue was forgotten for many years. All that was left was an unassuming monument, ignored by most passersby. The temple seemed to have disappeared completely from the minds of the citizens of post-war Wrocław. Only recently, Lev Stern, a Polish-Israeli architect, became interested in the synagogue’s history. He analyzed archival blueprints and confirmed that the old wall standing in the parking lot at Łąkowa Street is an original fragment of the wall that surrounded the synagogue grounds, dating to the last quarter of the 19th century.

Kitty Hubbard, an American Professor of Art, also started to dig around in the history of the wall. On November 9, she set up a temporary art installation on the wall; her installation told the story of the cantor and opera singer Selmar Cerini, a person closely tied to the New Synagogue. Her work was a symbolic step in the commemoration of this precious, lost monument to Jewish life in pre-war Breslau.

(Find out more about what happened to it later and how it was rediscovered here)

***

The event that stirred up the most intense emotions, not just in November, was the trial of Piotr Rybak, the man responsible for burning the effigy of a Jew in the Old Town Market Square in Wrocław exactly a year earlier.

It was the Mayor of Wrocław who had filed a complaint to the prosecution. During the trial, one of the witnesses who gave a deposition was the head of the Jewish Community in Wrocław, Aleksander Gleichgewicht. The trial itself was chaotic and preposterous; the defendant’s testimony was confronted with deposition statements given by the organizer of the protest against the Islamization of Europe (the organizer attended the trial as a witness, not as a defendant, as the  protest had been legally organized). The exchanges often ended in shouting matches, cut short by the judge. However, a fair verdict was ultimately reached. The judge decided that the act of burning the effigy referred directly to the Holocaust and was very harmful to Poland’s image abroad. On November 21, Rybak was sentenced to ten months in prison, despite the fact that the prosecutor only asked for community service. The judge was called a Masonic Jew sympathizer by Rybak’s friends after announcing the sentence. The sentence is appealable.

In “A Wrocław Triptych” on page 20, there is more about Piotr Rybak and two other persons responsible for inspiring a number of nationalist gatherings in Wrocław, during which Muslims and Jews were vilified.

***

On November 15, Professor Moshe Rosman received an honorary doctorate from the University of Wrocław. Prof. Rosman, who works at Bar Ilan University, is the most renown historian researching the history of Jews in Poland in the early modern period. He works on the history of Hasidism (among other topics), and is an author of the revolutionary book „Founder of Hasidism,” in which he researched the historic Baal Shem Tov. He also worked as an academic advisor for the main exhibition at POLIN Museum.

***

Jesus Christ was announced the King of Poland on November 19. The ceremony took place in the Sanctuary of Divine Mercy in Łagiewniki. Among those who attended the event were representatives of the Episcopate, Law and Justice ministers, and the President of Poland Andrzej Duda, who is very keen on taking part in as many Catholic ceremonies and events as he possibly can. Just a few years ago, Polish bishops had opposed enthroning Jesus as King of Poland on the grounds that it would be an empty political act. It didn’t take long for them to change their minds.

DECEMBER 2016

The “good change” introduced by the Polish government crossed the Polish border into Germany. In early December, Polish media reported that Katarzyna Wielga–Skolimowska, the director of the Polish Institute in Berlin since 2013, was dismissed from her post. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a negative assessment of her achievements though her work had never been criticized previously and it was clear that Wielga-Skolimowska had greatly helped to expand the Institute and to improve its cultural offer. The media speculated that Wielga-Skolimowska’s resignation could have had something to do with her having over-emphasized Jewish culture and history. The Ministry purportedly was not pleased that Wielga-Skolimowska had organized a screening of the Oscar-winning film “Ida.” The current government seems to hate this movie more than any other film produced in recent years because it portrays Poles murdering Jews during World War II. The government, however, is doing its best to convince everyone that Poles were involved only in saving Jews during the war.

***

Everyone seemed to think that the court sentence for burning the effigy of a Jew would succeed in calming Piotr Rybak’s temperament, but the opposite happened. Another nationalist march was held on December 13. It was organized by a nationalist party called the National Revival of Poland and it was officially meant to commemorate the 35th anniversary of the imposition of martial law in Poland by the communist government. Rybak spoke to the crowd that gathered in the neighborhood of the synagogue. He spoke as a patriot and a martyr, calling on everyone to bring an end to the Jewish communism that is still destroying Poland. He urged the crowd to make Poland Polish again; he called the Mayor of Wrocław “the first Jew of Wrocław.” It was clear that he relished his role as a fighter for Catholic Poland who is being persecuted by the (Jewish) government, and he was not afraid of prison or more trials. He considered the verdict a confirmation of his firm opinion that Jews are an omnipotent power controlling the entire world. He swore, “I will fight with all my might.”

Rybak’s speech was applauded by a group of nationalists and hooligans, Rybak’s “beloved youth.” The crowd burned photographs of Lech Wałęsa and Adam Michnik. Adam Michnik is the editor-in-chief of the most important and influential daily in Poland, “Gazeta Wyborcza” (“The Daily Electoral”). Nationalist and right-wing media often refer to it as “The Daily Kosher.”

***

On December 10, a gala was held in Wrocław (European Capital of Culture 2016) for the European Film Awards. Initially, the event was supposed to be streamed live by Polish public TV, but the management was not pleased to learn that the event would be hosted by Maciej Stuhr.

Stuhr, one of the most accomplished actors of the young generation, became an anti-hero of the right-wing media in 2012 after starring in the “controversial” film “Pokłosie” (“Aftermath”). The movie tells the story of two brothers who discover that their fellow villagers burned their Jewish neighbors alive in a barn during the second world war, a direct reference to the Jedwabne pogrom of 1941. After the premiere, Stuhr was dragged through the mud and has since admitted that “he is not considered a Pole anymore in some circles” because of his role in the movie.

This time around, public television (which was also subjected to the government’s “good change” after the elections) supposedly asked the European Film Academy to replace Stuhr with another host for the gala. When it became clear that EFA was not going to comply, the public TV cancelled its plans to transmit the event. In the end, the gala was aired by a commercial TV station.

 


Translation: Aga Zano

Proofreading: Barbara Pendzich

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