The promotion of tolerance and cultural pluralism is increasingly evident in Poland and is being addressed by ever larger numbers of both state and voluntary organizations as well as the media generally. Acts of discrimination against minority groups are more frequently than in the past exposed to widespread condemnation. Furthermore, public declarations by Polish politicians and religious officials about the need to combat antisemitism and all forms of intolerance are more frequent and more forceful.
Nonetheless, the existence of xenophobic or ultra-nationalistic sentiments remains evident, to a lesser or greater degree, among large sections of Polish society. The parliamentary elections of 2001, in which a number of far right candidates were elected, show that ultra-nationalist and populist rhetoric—used particularly by candidates of the ultra-conservative Liga Polskich Rodzin and the protest party Samoobrona—is still able to attract support. The fact that Poland’s economic situation has visibly worsened recently almost certainly contributed to this electoral outcome, as did the ongoing cultural and political effects of the Polish bid to become a member of the European Union. While many mainstream political leaders willingly express support for initiatives that promote tolerance and that combat xenophobia, those on the far right continue to use xenophobic discourse in pursuit of their parties’ political goals.
Furthermore, despite a certain amount of ‘good will’ among more liberal political circles, actual manifestations of prejudice are often downplayed, passed over in silence or even denied. At the same time antisemitic and xenophobic attitudes are demonstrably present to some degree among the young generation of Poles, and to a very high and visible degree among football fans and ultra-nationalist skinheads. Verbal and physical attacks on immigrants and members of 'visible minorities', as well as numerous cases of the desecration of Jewish cemeteries and synagogues, are of course the most spectacular evidence of these problems in Poland.
The Roman Catholic Church in Poland seems deeply divided on various issues, among them Christian-Jewish relations and antisemitism. Whereas the majority of bishops have supported—although with mixed results—the Pope's efforts at reconciliation with the Jewish people, ultra-conservative clerical circles, connected, for example, with Radio Maryja, support the nationalist right and actively participate in propagating an exclusionary, anti-minority model of Polish national identity in which the antisemitic component plays a significant role.
The role played by antisemitism in Poland continues to be disproportionate to the small size of Poland's contemporary Jewish community. The much-publicized conflicts arising from the crosses at Auschwitz (1998-9) and the war-time events at Jedwabne (2000-01)—both of which have received a great deal of international attention—show that mobilizing grassroots anti-Jewish prejudice as part of the nationalist project is still easily done. The use of Holocaust denial in addition to 'classical' antisemitic rhetoric in this regard is a relatively recent (and perhaps surprising) phenomenon in the Polish context, and still an extremely marginal one.
The Roma community continues to be the most frequent target of discriminatory behaviour, a situation only exacerbated by the generally poor economic conditions in which Roma live in Poland and by the cultural divisions between them and the Polish majority. Although incidents of anti-Rom discrimination are not reliably or systemically monitored, reports suggests that the Roma, like the many fewer members of other 'visible minorities', are subject to particularly aggressive abuse.
Total population: 38.6 million
Ethnic and national minorities:
Jews: estimates vary from 3,500-15,000, the lower figure representing members of the Zwiazek Gmin Wyznaniowych Zydowskich (Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland) and the secular Towarzystwo Spoleczno-Kulturalne Zydow w Polsce (Socio-Cultural Association of Jews in Poland), mostly in Warsaw, Wroclaw, Krakow and Lodz
Roma: estimates vary from 15,000-60,000 (the October 2000 estimate by the Polish Ministry of Education was 30,000)
Ethnic Germans: 300,000-700,000, mostly in the south-west region of Silesia, especially the regions of Katowice and Opole
Ethnic Ukrainians: 250,000-500,000, dispersed throughout the country
Ethnic Belarusans: 200,000-300,000, mostly in the Bialystok region, bordering Belarus
Smaller communities of Lemkos (50,000-150,000), Lithuanians (15,000-25,000), Slovaks (15,000-25,000), Russians (13,000-15,000), Czechs (2,000-5,000), Armenians (8,000), Greeks and Macedonians (5,000, the remaining portion of 15,000 political refugees who arrived in the 1970s and 1980s, and therefore not considered as a 'national minority') and Tatars (4,000-5,000)
Roman Catholic: 95 per cent, including, as well as the vast majority of the Polish population, the majority of ethnic Germans, Lithuanians, Slovaks and Roma
Eastern Orthodox and Greek Catholic: including, as well as some Poles, many members of the Belarusan, Ukrainian, Russian and Greek communities
Other religions: Jewish, Muslim (including 4,000-5,000 Poles of Tatar origin and c. 25,000 immigrant or 'new' Muslims) and Protestant
Political system: parliamentary democratic republic with a bicameral national legislature (the Sejm, the lower chamber, and the Senate)
Head of state: In October 2000 Aleksander Kwasniewski, former chairman of the reformed Communist Party, Sojusz Lewicy Demokratycznej (SLD, Democratic Left Alliance), was re-elected a president; he gained more than 50 per cent of the vote in the first round, and, unlike in the 1995 election, the second round was therefore unnecessary. None of the nationalist candidates received more than a handful of votes.
Government: The parliamentary elections of 23 September 2001 ousted the ruling right-wing bloc comprised primarily of Akcja Wyborcza Solidarnosci (AWS, Electoral Action Solidarity) and also the Unia Wolnosci (UW, Freedom Union), architects of Poland's post-Communist free market reforms. The largest percentage of the vote was won by the electoral coalition of SLD, previously the main opposition party, led by Leszek Miller, and the non-Communist socialists of Unia Pracy (UP, Labor Union), led by Marek Pol. The other parliamentary seats in the Sejm were won by: the centre-right liberals of the newly founded Platforma Obywatelska (PO, Civic Platform), formed by former UW and AWS politicians and led by Maciej Plazynski and Donald Tusk; the non-parliamentary leader Andrzej Olechowski, runner-up in the 2000 presidential election; the populist peasant party Samoobrona; the right-wing Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc (PiS, Law and Justice), formed by a group formerly associated with AWS and led by Lech Kaczynski; the Polskie Stronnictwo Ludowe (PSL, Polish Peasants' Party), led by Jaroslaw Kalinowski; and the Catholic nationalists of the LPR.
Neither of the former ruling parties—the AWS, which had changed its name prior to the 2001 elections to Akcja Wyborcza Solidarnosci Prawicy (AWSP, AWS of the Right) and UW—achieved the 8 per cent necessary for parliamentary representation.
The SLD-UP coalition won an absolute majority in the Senate; other parties and coalitions taking Senate seats being Blok Senat 2001 (a coalition of right-wing and centrist parties of 'post-Solidarity' origin), PSL, LPR and Samoobrona.
In mid-October a new government was formed, based on the coalition of SLD-UP and PSL. The SLD leader, Leszek Miller, became prime minister.
The results of elections to the Sejm (460 seats):
SLD-UP: 41.04 per cent 216 seats
PO: 12.68 per cent 65 seats
Samoobrona: 10.2 per cent 53 seats
PiS: 9.5 per cent 44 seats
PSL: 8.98 per cent 42 seats
LPR: 7.87 per cent 38 seats
German minority: 2 seats guaranteed regardless of the results
The results of elections to the Senate (100 seats):
SLD-UP: 75 seats
Blok Senat 2001: 15 seats
PSL: 4 seats
LPR: 2 seats
Samoobrona: 2 seats
PiS*: 1 seat
Independent senators: 1 seat
(*Electoral Committee of Voters and Supporters of L. Kaczynski)
Turnout in 2001 parliamentary elections: 46.29 per cent
Next elections: September (parliamentary) and October (presidential) 2005
Economic data (for greater detail, see the Ministry of the Economy or the Central Statistics Office)
GDP: US$155.2 billion (1999); US$159 billion (2000)
GDP per capita: US$4,095 (1998); US$4,014 (1999); US$4,110 (2000 est.)
GDP growth: 4.8 (1998); 4.1 (1999); 4.0 per cent (2000)
Inflation: 11.8 per cent (1998); 7.3 per cent (1999); 10.1 per cent (2000); 5.6 per cent (January-November 2001)
Unemployment: 10.4 per cent (1998); 13.1 per cent (1999); 15.0 per cent (2000); 16.8 per cent (approximately 3 million people) (November 2001)
In its second report on Poland (adopted in December 1999) the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) stressed the fact that, while progress had been made in recent years in combating racism, antisemitism and xenophobia, these problems were still marginalized and largely unacknowledged in Poland, and that deeply ingrained antisemitic attitudes and insensitivity to diversity still persisted among large segments of the population. ECRI advised the Polish authorities to implement or strengthen programmes to counter xenophobia and intolerance, especially legislative and judicial instruments, to institute the training of public officers, to begin monitoring levels of discrimination and the living conditions of minority groups, especially those, like the Roma, most often the victims of intolerance. ECRI also called for a large-scale campaign to increase public awareness of these problems.
The Roma (both individuals and groups) continue to suffer different forms of abuse, including verbal and physical violence. Members of other 'visible minorities', especially of African, Asian or Middle Eastern origin, are also targets of different forms of harassment, discrimination and violence in everyday life. Antisemitism, on the other hand, given the small number of Jews in contemporary Poland, manifests itself in the vandalism of Jewish property, in attitudes towards the historical Polish-Jewish heritage and as an influence on the political ideologies of certain groups and individuals. Racial prejudice and xenophobia in their most violent and destructive forms are actively encouraged by members of the far right and sympathizers (for more detail, see Incidents).
Discrimination against religious minorities in Poland often has an ethnic or national dimension, as the xenophobic elements in Polish society tend to identify national identity with Roman Catholicism. This is sometimes true with regard to discrimination against or abuse of members of Eastern Orthodox churches (who often are also members of national minorities such as the Ukrainians or Belarusans), and indeed to discrimination against Muslims or Jews. However, the only religious groups that actually do have a national character are the Greek Catholic Church (ethnic Ukrainians), the Old Believers' Church (ethnic Russians) and Judaism. Acts of discrimination against religious minorities take place usually in small communities, and are often instigated by the radical fringe of the Roman Catholic clergy or lay members of the Church.
Minorities in Poland
Poland now has a largely homogeneous population, its percentage of national or ethnic minorities being one of the lowest in Europe, officially estimated at between 2-3 per cent of the population by the Interior Ministry, and unofficially at between 3.5-4.5 per cent. This contrasts dramatically with the situation before the Second World War: in the 1931 census over 30 per cent of the population identified themselves as belonging to national minorities. The size of minorities in contemporary Poland is difficult to determine with precision since, in the post-war period, censuses have not included questions pertaining to ethnic or national identity (a 1998 law prohibits the collection of information about, among other things, a person's ethnic origin, religious affiliation or membership in religious or political organizations). Many of the national minorities are concentrated in particular areas, particularly near the borders with neighbouring states.
During the post-war Communist period, one of the ideological goals of the Polish authorities was the creation of a nationally homogeneous population by means of the assimilation of minority groups. Accordingly, in general, the freedom to preserve minority cultures and languages or to form minority associations was severely curtailed.
The protection of minority rights became a key issue in the reconstruction of Poland after the fall of Communism in 1989. That year, as a signal to the changing conception of national identity, the then prime minister declared to parliament that Poland was 'a motherland of national minorities'. At the same time both the Department for National Minorities' Culture (within the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage) and the Parliamentary Commission for National and Ethnic Minorities were created. The latter drafted a law on national and ethnic minorities that has proved controversial enough to have been debated in the Sejm since 1993 without yet being adopted.
Ethnic and national minorities
After the Second World War, the north-west region of Silesia, previously the easternmost region of Germany, became Polish territory. Over 3 million German Silesians were deported to territory within the redrawn German borders, including virtually the entire population of Wroclaw (Breslau). Others, particularly the inhabitants of Opole, were allowed to remain in their (now Polish) homeland. The contemporary ethnic German community in Poland, concentrated mainly in the two Silesian regions of Katowice and Opole, is variously estimated at between 300,000 and 700,000. Relations between them and the Polish authorities are sometimes strained, and disagreements between the German and Polish governments over such matters as restitution of pre-war property sometimes threaten to erupt.
According to 1998 surveys done by the Pracownia Badan Spolecznych (Social Research Institute) in Katowice, 27 per cent of residents in Silesia identified themselves as members of the Silesian minority (as opposed to 65 per cent who identified themselves as Poles and 6 per cent as Germans).
It is estimated that approximately 100,000 members of the German minority who hold dual Polish and German citizenship work in Germany. In February and March 2000 district authorities in Opole refused twice to register a German minority trade union. The court's rationale for the decision was that a statute extending the activity of the union beyond the borders of Poland to include a territory of the EU (i.e. Germany) violates Polish law. Even after changing the name from the German Minority Trade Union to the Union of Germans and limiting the area of the organization's activity, the court reaffirmed its decision, stating that the new name along with a number of provisions in the union's charter would enable foreigners to become members, which is against Polish law.
In April 2000, the weekly Polityka announced publication of a report issued by the Urzad Ochrony Panstwa (UOP, Office for State Security) regarding the Silesian minority in southern Poland. The report considered the activity of the Ruch Autonomii Slaska (RAS, Movement for Autonomy of Silesia) as potentially posing a threat to the integrity and stability of the Polish state and Poland's interests as a prospective EU-member. In 1997 some activists of the RAS failed to obtain permission to register the Zwiazek Ludnosci Narodowosci Slaskiej (Union of the Silesian People) as a national minority organization. An appeal made by the group to the International Court of Justice was rejected in December 2001.
The large ethnic pre-war Ukrainian community that inhabited the south-eastern region bordering the Ukraine was decimated by Akcja Wisla (Operation Wisla/Vistula), the post-war policy whereby populations were strongly encouraged, if not forced, to resettle in the new Soviet republics of Ukraine and Belorussia, and vice versa. Under this operation, some 120,000-150,000 Ukrainians were relocated to the Ukraine while thousands of ethnic Poles travelled in the opposite direction. Despite this, some Ukrainians remained in towns along the border, and they (and their descendants) constitute the contemporary Ukrainian national minority in Poland, which numbers between an estimated 250,000-500,000, and which is now dispersed throughout the country.
Opinion polls consistently show that negative stereotypes of Ukrainians are widespread throughout the Polish population—partly the legacy of the bloody Polish-Ukrainian conflicts during and after the Second World War—and that many Ukrainians in Poland experience some degree of ethnic discrimination.
The sizeable Belarusan minority (estimates between 200,000-300,000) inhabits the north-east corner of Poland that borders Belarus, centred on its cultural capital of Bialystok. Probably because of the region's general poverty, the Belarusan community there largely escaped the post-war deportations and population scatterings that fragmented many of the other minority communities in Poland.
In January 2000, Leon Tarasewicz, a well-known Belarusan painter living in Poland, rejected an award given by the mayor of the city of Bialystok. Tarasewicz said there was an atmosphere of ill-will and distrust among the Poles towards the Belarusan minority living in Bialystok, and that these negative sentiments were fuelled by the local authorities. Tarasewicz sent a letter to the mayor, in which he argued that this prejudice leads to an 'intensification of the nationalist attitudes of the Polish majority and intimidation and fear among the minority'.
The Lemkos (sometimes referred to as Ruthenians or Rusyns) are a distinct ethnic group that inhabited the northern slopes of the Carpathian Mountains for centuries (in the south-east, near the Ukrainian border). In 1947, as a result of Warsaw's concern that Lemkos were sympathetic to Ukrainian nationalism—as some were—the entire region was forcibly depopulated, and whole villages of Lemkos, some 80,000 in all, were scattered throughout Poland, an action that almost destroyed Lemko culture in Poland. In addition to the split within the community between those that identify with Ukrainian culture and those that do not, many of the post-1947 Lemko generations are highly assimilated into Polish culture. Estimates of the number of Lemkos in contemporary Poland vary widely from 50,000 to 150,000, some 20,000 of them having, in recent years, returned to their ancestral homeland in the south-east.
Muslim Tatars first settled in Poland in the fourteenth century. Many of the descendants of the settlers have fully adopted Polish culture and traditions. There are an estimated 4,000-5,000 Poles descended from the Tatars who still identify themselves as Muslims, as well as two surviving mosques in the two Tatar villages that remained in Poland after the Second World War, Bohoniki and Kruszyniany. The practice of Islam in Poland has been renewed in recent years by the arrival of Muslims mainly from the Arab world. Muslims of foreign origin in Poland are estimated to number 25,000.
In Poland, despite ethnic antagonism, Roma were able to practise a nomadic lifestyle up until the Second World War, in the course of which hundreds of thousands of Gypsies were murdered by the Nazis. In the post-war Communist period, the Polish authorities—whose goal in general was the creation of a nationally homogeneous population by means of the assimilation of minority groups—saw Roma as a social problem and as largely unassimilable. Throughout the period, and until the 1980s, the government continued to expel Roma, and implemented measures to compel them to settle and take jobs. This forced assimilation half succeeded, especially in particular regions, although those Roma that settled tended to form enclosed communities, and to engage in occupations that incorporated to some degree a nomadic lifestyle, becoming travelling musicians or craftsmen who sold their wares from town to town.
Despite some signs of improvement, longstanding negative stereotypes and widespread prejudice against Roma still exist, and acts of discrimination against them, sometimes violent, occur on a regular basis. As regards educational opportunities, Roma children reportedly are at a particular disadvantage, and most do not even complete primary school. The reasons given include economic disadvantage, language barriers (six Romany dialects are in use in Poland) and parental illiteracy. The Roma community generally has a higher level of unemployment than the population at large due to several factors, including discrimination and social inequality, cultural attitudes to paid employment, lack of education and insufficient knowledge of the Polish language.
Estimates of the number of Roma in Poland today vary widely, from 15,000 to 60,000. In October 2000 the Ministry of Education estimated their number at 30,000.
Immigration and refugees
A new immigration law took effect in December 1997. The Aliens' Act gives all prospective refugees access to the procedures for applying for refugee status (including the right to be given the necessary information in their own language) and established an independent Council for Refugees to hear appeals against negative decisions by the Department of Migration and Refugee Affairs, part of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. There is no concept of first asylum or any other form of temporary protection in the new legislation.
Both legal residence status in Poland and a work permit are granted only to applicants holding a valid visa or temporary residence permit; the work permit also requires that an employer also obtain a necessary permit. Permanent residence status can be applied for only after five years of legal residence, and only those granted permanent residence status can benefit from social security and public health care. Polish citizenship is available after a continuous period of residence of five years. Only Polish citizens have the right to vote.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), at the beginning of 1999 there were 1,250 asylum and refugee-status applications pending in Poland, and a further 2,960 applications submitted throughout that year (down on the 3,370 submitted in 1998), representing 0.6 per cent of the total number lodged in 25 European countries. In the year 2000, 4,310 asylum applications were received, representing 0.9 per cent of the total number for 25 European countries. The rise in numbers was attributed to an influx of Chechen refugees. In both years, however, Poland received fewer applications than any other European country save for Romania and Portugal.
From January-November 2001, there were 4,029 applications for asylum lodged.
In recent years, applicants have come from more than 30 countries. In 1998, the highest numbers came from Armenia (978), Sri Lanka (643), the Yugoslavian republics (416) and Afghanistan (331); in 1999 from Armenia (868), Afghanistan (555), Romania (211) and Bulgaria (185); and in 2000 from the Russian Federation, mostly Chechnya (879), Romania (864), Armenia (715) and Afghanistan (247).
The trend of recent years demonstrates that Poland is gradually becoming a destination point for refugees rather than a transit station. Fewer persons are leaving the country after acquiring permission to remain and few are abandoning their refugee applications before decisions have been handed down. According to the 2001 State Department Human Rights Report on Poland, the International Organization for Migration recently estimated that some 300,000 irregular migrants reside in Poland at any given moment, and the National Labour Office estimates that as many as 200,000 foreigners are working illegally in the country.
The Polish edition of Newsweek (16 September 2001) reported a number of complaints about the treatment of immigrants and asylum-seekers by public officials. It highlighted, for example, the case of the Vasiliu family, in which a Romanian man, after being refused an extension of his residence permit, was deported to Romania and barred from entering Poland for five years, enforcing a separation between him and his Polish wife and their four-year-old daughter, an act inconsistent with Poland's Constitution, which guarantees special protection for the family.
On the eve of the Second World War, Poland's Jewish community numbered 3.5 million, which represented 20 per cent of world Jewry and 10 per cent of the pre-war Polish population. Since the Holocaust and several waves of emigration during the Communist period, only a tiny remnant of this ancient community remains.
Until the late eighteenth century the situation of the Jewish community in the Polish Commonwealth was, on balance, better than in most European countries. When Poland was divided up between Russia, Prussia and Austria-Hungary in 1795, inter-communal relations began to deteriorate as the foreign powers implemented a principle of divide et impera.
Modern Polish nationalism emerged in western Poland in the late nineteenth century in the form of the Endecja (Narodowa Democracja, National Democracy) movement. The Endecja promoted the identification of Polishness with Catholicism, using anti-Germanism to construe an 'external' enemy and antisemitism to define the 'internal' enemy. During the inter-war period of the Second Republic (1918-39), Endecja was led by Roman Dmowski, one of Poland's pre-eminent nationalist ideologues.
During the period of the Second Republic (191839), Jews encountered increasing hostility from wide sections of the population. The first wave of antisemitic pogroms in independent Poland took place soon after independence had been regained in 1918. Antisemitism became particularly visible after 1935 when the extreme right and radical Catholic circles began depicting Jews as a foreign element and a threat to the Polish state and nation. Right-wing parties and militant groups pressed the government to impose anti-Jewish measures, including economic restrictions, such as the 1936 laws limiting ritual slaughter. As a result of pressure to introduce the numerus clausus law, after 1937 universities were allowed to create separate places for 'national' and for Jewish students, and in 1938 the parliament voted in legislation regulating the number of new attorneys, which affected Jewish applicants. The same year a law was passed that aimed to deprive Jewish emigrants of Polish citizenship. Orchestrated by the extra-parliamentary nationalist opposition and supported by a large section of the Catholic Church, pogroms and boycotts of Jewish shops became frequent.
Following their occupation of Poland in September 1939, the Nazis attempted to murder the entire Jewish population, situating its notorious death camps on Polish soil: Auschwitz, Majdanek, Sztutowo, Rogoznica, Treblinka, Chelmno, Sobibor and Belzec. Although some Poles did help Jews to survive the Holocaust, most remained passive in the face of Nazi terror. Poland was the only country in Europe where the death penalty was imposed for assisting a person of Jewish origin. Some groups and individuals of Polish nationality were openly hostile to the Jews. Polish police (so-called policja granatowa) as well as some civilians collaborated with the Nazis by denouncing Jews who escaped the ghettos. A number of Poles acted as blackmailers (szmalcownicy) demanding that Jews pay ransoms, and threatening both Jews who were in hiding and gentiles who were assisting Jews. Among the anti-Jewish pogroms and other incidents initiated by fractions of the Polish population that occurred during the Nazi occupation the most violent and tragic took place during the summer of 1941 after the Nazis had entered the eastern territories that were annexed by the Soviet Union in September 1939. Some Poles, who opposed Communist rule and, inspired by the Polish nationalist and Nazi propaganda, associated Jews with the Soviet persecutors, felt encouraged by the presence of the Nazis and took part—often voluntarily—in pogrom-type killings of Jews. Several such cases have been documented, the most well-known, recently made public, being the Jedwabne pogrom of 10 July 1941, in which at least several hundred Jewish inhabitants of a town were murdered by a group of their Polish neighbours.
Post-war hopes of improved Polish-Jewish relations were thwarted first by grassroots antisemitism, which reached its apogee in the Kielce pogrom of 1946 in which forty-two people died, and then by Communist-inspired antisemitism. The latter became evident first in 1956, when the conservative wing of the Communist Party used it in its struggle with the pro-reform faction. The nationalist line of the Party, reflected in attitudes throughout Polish society, culminated in the 'anti-Zionist' campaign of 1968 that resulted in the mass expulsion of approximately 15,000 Polish citizens of Jewish nationality or Jewish ancestry between 1968 and 1972, the largest anti-Jewish action in Europe in the post-war period.
A similar strategy was used by the Communist Party against the political opposition in the 1970s and 1980s, when the leaders of the trade union Solidarnosc (Solidarity) were portrayed as a 'non-Polish' element. Even within Solidarity some members of the Catholic-national faction made antisemitic accusations against the opposing secular left-wing faction, especially against the leaders of the Komitet Obrony Robotnikow (Workers' Defense Committee).
In the 1980s a circle of opposition intellectuals began a re-evaluation of Polish history, especially of relations with Poland's ethnic minorities. Some members of Solidarity's political elite frequently condemned antisemitism, xenophobia and ultra-nationalism.
Antisemitic expressions did not disappear in Poland with the collapse of Communism. They resurfaced during the presidential campaign of late 1990. Although, since 1991, successive governments have repeatedly spoken out against antisemitism and the use of antisemitic rhetoric has decreased in mainstream political circles, incidents involving more or less explicit forms of antisemitic or xenophobic prejudice were still present among some right-wing politicians and other public figures.
Auschwitz and other Holocaust sites
Many of the most difficult conflicts in contemporary Polish-Jewish relations concern not only the remains of the concentration camps and death camps built by the Nazis on Polish soil, particularly Auschwitz-Birkenau, but also the areas surrounding those camps and other significant Holocaust sites. For Jews world-wide—the vast majority of whom live outside of Poland—these places more than any others stand as memorials to the cold-blooded genocidal murder of millions of Jews that has come to be known as the Holocaust. While historically the camps are equally resonant for the Polish people, for whom they are sites of Polish martyrdom and symbols of the horrors of the Nazi occupation in which some 3 million Poles also were murdered, some property and buildings also inevitably get caught up in contemporary Polish life and begin, especially for the generations of Poles born after the war, to take on new meanings unrelated to the past.
In 1997, in order to deal with conflicts arising from this inevitable clash of sensibilities regarding the land and buildings of the former Auschwitz-Birkenau camp and the present town of Oswiecim, the Polish government appointed a commissioner to implement a Strategic Programme for Oswiecim. The commissioner set up an international panel of experts to oversee any new developments around the site and to ensure that they comply with the requirements established by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee.
On 12 October 1998 the provincial governor of Bielsko Biala announced that the Maja construction company would be able to carry on with the construction of a shopping mall that had been stopped in 1996 after Jewish groups protested its proximity to the site of the Auschwitz concentration camp. This decision was upheld by an administrative court in Gliwice in January 1999 despite appeals by the Auschwitz Museum management. In August 2000, the president of the Maja company said that, following government requests, they had redesigned the planned centre as a facility that would serve the hundreds of thousands of visitors to the museum. The new project includes a restaurant, bank, post office and souvenir shop. Although the Auschwitz Museum and other organizations has raised objections, Jewish leaders in Poland said the services offered by the development would be necessary given the more than half-million visitors to Auschwitz each year.
On 6 March 1999, in anticipation of the government's adoption of a new law protecting the areas surrounding the death camps, almost 1,000 citizens of the city of Oswiecim demonstrated in front of the Auschwitz camp to protest the law's prohibition of commercial activity in areas around the former camps. They claimed that the plan would reduce their economic opportunities and lead to a growth of unemployment in the area. The demonstrators carried Polish flags, sang the patriotic song 'Rota' and displayed banners bearing slogans such as 'The larger the zone the greater the unemployment' and 'Oswiecim and Brzezinka have the right to a normal life'.
One of the members of the Social Committee for the Defence of the Rights of Residents of Oswiecim City and Commune, Elzbieta Waluszek, said the draft bill violated the property rights of about 1,000 persons living within the 100-metre zone around the former camp and warned that, if the bill was passed by parliament, the Committee would file an appeal against it to the constitutional court. On 9 March 1999 the government commissioner for the Auschwitz programme, Piotr Stachanczyk, gave assurances that the creation of a protection zone would not involve evictions.
On 10 April 1999 the Sejm passed the Former Nazi Extermination Camp Sites Protection Act, regarding Auschwitz, Majdanek, Sztutowo, Rogoznica, Treblinka, Chelmno, Sobibor and Belzec, and it was signed into law on 8 May. The law prohibits business activity within a 100-metre zone around the former camps and requires special permits for public gatherings.
In May 1999, the Oswiecim local council approved plans by an entertainment company called Art-Mix to open a discothèque in an old tannery near the Auschwitz camp in which, during the war, slave labourers had sorted the belongings of those sent to the camp. The governor of Malopolska province, Ryszard Maslowski, withdrew building permission in October after protests from the German-sponsored International Youth Meeting Centre—a place where young people, mainly Germans, come to study the Holocaust—which is alongside the former tannery; the Centre was worried that noise from the nightclub would disturb its visitors.
In April 2000, the owner of Art-Mix announced his decision to abandon the project. Another company subsequently applied for and received a license, and the discothèque opened in August 2000. A campaign to close it down was immediately launched by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, whose spokesman Rabbi Abraham Cooper called the nightclub 'an obscenity' where young Poles were 'being encouraged to dance in the immediate vicinity of the largest Jewish graveyard in history'. Nonetheless, as the building was located beyond the 100-metre zone protected by law, the government claimed that it was not subject to any legal constraint. In early September 2000, however, government spokespersons publicly condemned the opening of the disco and appealed to its owners to move it. After months of vociferous protests, in April 2001, the provincial governor withdrew the discothèque's license, citing infringements of local building codes and other regulations. The following month, the club's owners launched an appeal to have the it re-opened, but announced in September that they were abandoning the appeal and would not seek to renew their contract when it expired in November 2001.
In March 1999 Jewish organizations in Poland condemned plans to build housing in a square in Warsaw (formerly the Umschlagplatz in the ghetto), from which trains carrying 300,000 Jews left for Treblinka during the Holocaust. At a press conference on 26 March, Feliks Tych, the director of the Zydowski Instytut Historyczny (Jewish Historical Institute) in Warsaw, called these housing plans 'moral vandalism'. Several days later, the mayor of Warsaw decided to offer another plot of land for the proposed housing complex, leaving the area around the square for the construction of a memorial.
Crosses at Auschwitz
The international controversy over religious symbols on sites adjacent to the Auschwitz concentration camp has been ongoing for over a decade. Part of the area, the so-called gravel pit, marks the spot where 152 Polish political prisoners were executed by the Nazis in 1941; a 1979 Papal mass held at the site was commemorated by the erection of a three-metre cross on the gravel pit. More crosses and other Catholic religious symbols were erected throughout the 1980s and a Carmelite convent was established in buildings adjacent to the gravel pit, attracting widespread condemnation by Jewish groups both inside and outside Poland. While this matter was resolved in 1993 when the nuns vacated the convent and handed the rights to it over to the state in exchange for 1 million zloties compensation—although technically the lease for the land, including both the convent and the gravel pit, belonged to the Stowarzyszenie Ofiar Wojny (SOW, War Victims' Association)—the presence of the crosses and other symbols at the site continued to be a matter of dispute.
Antisemitic rhetoric has always played a role in the defence of the display of Catholic symbols at Auschwitz. The construction of a 'Jewish enemy', defined as an element foreign to both the religion and nationality of the Poles, has served to unite the different extremist factions who are active in the dispute. Elements of this rhetoric are also apparent in pamphlets displayed on a wall near the gravel pit: 'Save Poland from the dark deeds of Jewish-Masonry', 'The Jews are responsible for [the Auschwitz] conflict' and 'How long will we allow the Jews to decide the destiny of our beleaguered homeland?'
Polish government's announcement, in February 1998, that all the
religious symbols, including the 1979 Papal cross, would be removed re-ignited
the conflict once again. Months later, in August 1998, the government served
the SOW with notice of termination of its lease of the gravel pit. However, when
the SOW refused to leave the site—its chairman Mieczyslaw Janosz, in a press
conference on 21 August, condemned the 'aggression of the Jewish attempt to take
over the entire camp [site of Auschwitz]'—the Polish state treasury initiated
proceedings to regain control of the ground. On 19 October 1998, the first
hearing took place at the Oswiecim regional court, which decided that, until the
SOW's complaint against the state treasury over the termination of the lease was
examined, the land would remain under SOW's management. The government spokesman
Jaroslaw Sellin said that the court's decision would harm Poland's image
internationally and announced that the government would appeal against it. And,
indeed, on 30 November, the provincial court in Bielsko Biala overturned the
regional court's decision.
By that time there were 240 crosses at the site, including the addition on 1 November of other religious symbols (Stations of the Cross). On that same day a holy mass was celebrated by retired priest Fr Tadeusz Dziegiel-Wolynowicz from Bydgoszcz (central Poland), who said that Jews were controlling the Polish media and it was by this means that they would destroy the Polish people. He added that, by demanding the removal of the Papal cross from the gravel pit, Jews were trying to undermine the authority of the Catholic religion: 'The Jews do not want to live under the Polish cross, although it was here that they had the greatest freedom for centuries.' In his sermon Fr Dziegiel-Wolynowicz suggested that an international monument that included both the Star of David and crosses should stand in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp: 'The Jews have a right to the Star of David, for their burial ground is here. Peace and brotherly love should follow.'
Among the some twenty participants at the mass was Kazimierz Switon, a radical Catholic member of the Oswiecimskie Przymierze w Obronie Papieskiego Krzyza (Social Committee for the Defense of the Papal Cross in Oswiecim) who had made headlines the previous summer for his 42-day hunger strike and his statement that he was 'prepared to starve to death in defence of that cross'.
On 1 December 1998 a coalition of Jewish organizations gathering in Washington to begin negotiations with the Polish government over the development of the Auschwitz site complained about the crosses erected at the gravel pit, and said that their removal would be a condition for further dialogue. Before the conference's opening ceremony, the Polish Prime Minister's Foreign Affairs Adviser Agnieszka Magdziak-Miszewska delivered a message from Prime Minister Buzek announcing the removal of all the new crosses from the gravel pit, and expressing hope that the government bill, then in preparation, on the protection of places of remembrance would form the basis for resolving the problem of crosses at Auschwitz as well as other potential problems in Polish-Jewish relations. Buzek also noted, however, that the government could not break Polish law to speed up the state take-over of ownership of the gravel pit.
On 14 March 1999 a holy mass was celebrated at the gravel pit to commemorate the death of 72 Polish political prisoners shot by the Nazis at the site in 1941. Several dozen citizens of Oswiecim took part in the mass which was officiated once again by Fr Tadeusz Dziegiel-Wolynowicz, who said that the Church's main task was to care for the nation's spiritual heritage, a part of which was the Papal cross at the gravel pit. Also (again) present, Kazimierz Switon said the mass was 'the beginning of this year's season', and announced the celebration of future masses as well as the forthcoming addition of more crosses at the gravel pit. Switon also announced the beginning of a campaign for the construction of a Catholic shrine at the site. However, two days later, on 16 March, Fr Jerzy Urbaniec, a spokesman for Bishop Tadeusz Rakoczy of Bielsko-Zywiec diocese said that permission to erect such a shrine would not be given.
The Former Nazi Extermination Camp Sites Protection Act, passed by the Sejm on 10 April 1999, gave the authorities the power to remove crosses from the gravel pit as well as to terminate the lease held by the SOW. On 22 April the bill was amended by the Senate to allow the Papal cross to remain at the site, although this amendment was rejected by the Sejm on 7 May, the day before the bill was signed into law. Prime Minister Buzek stated, however, that the Papal cross would remain at the site. International Jewish organizations were mixed in their reactions to the new law: some welcomed it as the solution that was needed, and some read it as a defeat for the Jewish community.
On 3 May 1999 fifty new crosses were erected at the gravel pit and Fr Leon Kalinowski of Warsaw and Fr Dziegiel-Wolynowicz celebrated a holy mass. According to the Polish Press Agency, Fr Kalinowski said that priests should defend the Papal cross and not 'give in to Jewish pressure'. The next day the chairman of the episcopate's Commission for Dialogue with Judaism, Bishop Stanislaw Gadecki, said the episcopate saw the erection of new crosses as a provocation and was in favour of leaving only the Papal cross at the site.
On 11 May 1999 Kazimierz Switon, who for over a year had been living in a tent at the gravel pit, began the construction of a wooden chapel in front of the Papal cross without permission from Church officials. The following day the bishop of Bielsko-Zywiec diocese offered to talk to Switon about bringing the affair to a peaceful end. Switon rejected the offer, and his wooden chapel was consecrated on 16 May by a retired priest. Church officials refused to approve the chapel.
On 25 May 1999, the day the new law protecting former Nazi camps came into force, the Polish government asked that all crosses except the Papal one be removed. Furthermore, government press spokesman Krzysztof Luft said that the government intended to take over the area of the gravel pit in accordance with the new law. However, SOW activists said they would not move from the site, and that the state treasury had no right to terminate the SOW lease. One of the SOW's leaders, Leszek Bubel, said that, according to Article 27 of the new law, if an agreement concerning the camps and the protection zone was the subject of court proceedings, that agreement could only be terminated within a period of three months from the date of the legally binding conclusion of the court proceedings.
On 27 May 1999 Kazimierz Switon was arrested on charges of possessing illegal explosive devices and posing a danger to others. Police intervened after Switon warned that he would detonate explosives to defend the wooden chapel from demolition. Two days after his arrest the regional court in Oswiecim ordered Switon's imprisonment. Although these charges were subsequently dropped, Switon spent a month in prison, a fact that the courts cited in waiving his sentence in another case.
The next day army troops removed over 300 crosses and the wooden chapel from the gravel pit. The crosses were placed in a Franciscan monastery near Oswiecim. The Papal cross was left at the site. Reactions to this move were generally positive. The Polish-Jewish activist and former editor of the leading Jewish monthly Midrasz, Konstanty Gebert, said that the Papal cross should also be removed and that 'a monument incorporating a cross as a component' should be erected in its place. The government spokesman Krzysztof Luft stated that the Papal cross would certainly remain at the site as a permanent monument. The prime ministerial adviser Agnieszka Magdziak-Miszewska also stated unequivocally that the cross would remain at the site; she said that those Jews who demanded the removal of the Papal cross (she mentioned Rabbi Weiss, Elie Wiesel and Kalman Sultanik, the vice president of the Auschwitz Museum Council) were not representative of Jewish opinion generally. The press spokesman of the Polish episcopate, Fr Adam Schulz, said the removal of the crosses from the gravel pit at Auschwitz and the accentuation of the importance of the Papal cross were necessary, above all, for Poland and the Roman Catholic Church, and also expressed hopes for further dialogue with the Jews.
That dialogue was strained further on 11 June 1999, during the Pope's visit to Poland, when the Chief Rabbi of Poland, Menachem Pinchas Joskowicz, interrogated him in parliament on the question of the cross at Auschwitz: 'I have a request of Mr Pope . . . that it [i.e. the Papal cross] also be removed from the camp.' Joskowicz's statement, and in particular his addressing of the Pope as Pan papiez ('Mr Pope') rather than as 'Your Holiness' as is customary, was condemned by public officials, including the leaders of Poland's Jewish community.
On 8 November 1999, the local court in Oswiecim ordered the SOW to hand the gravel pit premises over to their legal owner, the state treasury.
In September 2000 the dispute briefly threatened to re-erupt when a local court ruled that the SOW had the right to mourn the 152 Polish victims of the Nazis at the site of their execution.
The Jedwabne pogrom debate
In May 2000 the Pogranicze (Borderland) Publishing Company published 2,000 copies of a book by the Polish-born New York-based historian Jan Tomasz Gross entitled Sasiedzi. Historia zaglady zydowskiego miasteczka (Neighbours. A Story of the Destruction of a Jewish Town). The book discusses a pogrom that took place in the town of Jedwabne in Nazi-occupied Poland on 10 July 1941, in which at least several hundred Jewish residents were murdered by a group of their Polish neighbours. Gross's main thesis was that the Polish majority among Jedwabne residents had taken an active part in killing some 1,600 Jews, most of whom were burned alive in a barn. (The monument placed at the site of the massacre in the early 1960s refers to 1,600 Jews being burned by the Gestapo and SS.)
The case had been known since the late 1940s, when twenty-three people were put on trial in Communist Poland (one was sentenced to death, eleven to 8-15 years in prison and others were acquitted), but it had not been discussed publicly. Even though some publications mentioning the Jedwabne pogrom were already in existence (such as Szymon Datner's 1966 article in the Bulletin of the Jewish Historical Institute and the Jedwabne Memorial Book published in 1980 in Israel), it was Gross's book that not only renewed interest in the case and in the complex issue of Polish attitudes towards the Jews during the Holocaust, but also inspired one of the biggest national debates in Poland's recent history. In May and July 2000, Andrzej Kaczynski published long articles on the pogrom at Jedwabne in the mainstream daily Rzeczpospolita; at the same time, the right-wing press, especially Nasz Dziennik, published articles by nationalist historians and writers.
The positions of Gross's opponents (mostly professional historians, among whom the most involved was Professor Tomasz Strzembosz) ranged from those stressing the Nazi-inspired character of the murders committed by the Poles, to those that denied any form of active and/or voluntary participation by Poles. Among the arguments raised by these critics were those that justified the Polish acts as revenge against the Jews for their collaboration with the Soviet regime (Jedwabne, located in eastern Poland, was under Soviet occupation between September 1939 and June 1941).
The debate revealed deep divisions in Polish public opinion regarding issues of national history. 'Anti-Gross' reactions in many respects resembled the campaign for defence of the Auschwitz crosses and, at their most extreme, seemed to be engaged in a 'martyrdom competition', involving large amounts of national chauvinism and antisemitism, especially among the right-wing commentators and scholars. On the other hand, some voices expressed the need for a revision of national myths and called for a symbolic apology by the Poles for their crimes against the Jewish people throughout their common history, especially in the twentieth century.
On 8 May 2000 in Jedwabne, representatives of the local authorities, the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland and the Prime Minister's Office agreed to work together to devise an appropriate commemoration of the events of 1941. They decided to determine the precise location where the victims were buried and make it into a Jewish cemetery, to do the necessary historical research to unearth the facts, the murderers and the witnesses, and verify the published record, and to construct a memorial to the Jedwabne Jewish community and its centuries-long presence in the town in a manner that would foster Polish-Jewish reconciliation.
In November 2000, the public debate began in earnest with a critical article by Jacek Zakowski and an interview with another Holocaust historian, Tomasz Szarota, both in Gazeta Wyborcza. On 18 November 2000, a symposium on Gross's book was held at the Polish Academy of Science, during which some scholars challenged Gross's findings and criticized methodological aspects of his work. By February 2001, at least seventy articles on Jedwabne had appeared in newspapers and magazines, and by the beginning of June the number had quadrupled (for an extensive database of articles on Jedwabne in Polish, English, German and French, see the website of the book's publisher Pogranicze). At the same time, the main public television channel broadcast Agnieszka Arnold's documentary about the pogrom, also entitled Sasiedzi (Neighbours).
On 4 March 2001, the Komitet Obrony Dobrrego Imienia Jedwabnego (Committee for Defence of Jedwabne's Reputation) was formed. Nationalist activists began visiting Jedwabne and distributing anti-Jewish propaganda, stating that the so-called 'attack on Jedwabne' was being launched by 'Jewish pressure groups'. On 11 March 2001, the bishop of Lomza, Fr Stanislaw Stefanek, said in his sermon that Jewish financial claims were behind the 'attack on Jedwabne'.
On 5 April 2001, the investigation into the Jedwabne pogrom conducted by the Instytut Pamieci Narodowej (IPN, Institute of National Memory)—begun the previous summer and expected to be completed by April 2002—revealed that, according to German archives, Nazi troops (Schaper's Commando) might have been involved in the Jedwabne pogrom. Excavations also began at the site in Jedwabne where the burned barn had stood. Tensions were heightened when the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland opposed the planned exhumation, which was nevertheless carried out in the upper layers in the ground. On 5 June 2001, investigators announced that 89 bullet shells were found at the site, and the Minister of Justice, Lech Kaczynski, estimated that there were 250 victims. Based on these findings, some historians and commentators concluded that the massacre was carried out by the Nazis, and that the Poles were merely passive bystanders. Later in the year, in December, after 67 witnesses had been interviewed, investigators claimed that the bullet shells could not have been used by Nazi troops in 1941, increasing the probability that Polish townspeople were responsible for the murders. In addition, the estimate of the number of victims rose: according to prosecutor Radoslaw Ignatiew, some 400 people were buried around the barn site.
In April 2001, the English translation of the book Neighbours was published, and review articles appeared in the mainstream press in the United States, Britain, Germany, France and other western countries.
On 10 July 2001, on the sixtieth anniversary of the Jedwabne pogrom, a ceremony of commemoration took place at the site around the new monument and cemetery. President Aleksander Kwasniewski apologized for the tragic events, saying: 'I apologize as a human being, a Polish citizen and the president of the Polish Republic, and on behalf of myself and all those Poles whose conscience is moved by this genocide.' Kwasniewski's apology was generally well received by the Jews in Poland and abroad as well as by liberal public opinion in Poland, but heavily criticized in Polish right-wing and radical Catholic circles. Representatives of the Polish episcopate and the right-wing government did not attend the ceremony, and the residents of Jedwabne and the local clergy generally distanced themselves from it. The only representatives of the local authorities in attendance were the mayor of Jedwabne, Krzysztof Godlewski, and the speaker of the town council. Soon after, as a result of pressure by the local community, Godlewski announced his resignation, which came into effect in November 2001.
In November 2000 Henryk M., a seventy-seven-year-old Polish man from Szczecin (north-west Poland), was charged with collaborating with the Nazis during the Holocaust. Prosecutors accused him of 'taking part in acts of genocide' at the Chelmno death camp from December 1941 until April 1943.
Restitution of property
The law on the restitution of Jewish communal property, originally passed in February 1997, permitted the local Jewish community to submit claims up to the year 2002 on property that it owned prior to the Second World War. The law did not deal with private property or Jewish communal property to which third parties had obtained title. A commission, made up of three delegates from the Interior Ministry and three from the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland, was responsible for implementing the measure. By August 1998 the government had passed draft amendments to the law according to which some pre-war foreign owners of property taken over by the state after the Second World War would not have the right to reclaim their property.
On 2 March 1998, by which time the commission had received fifty-eight claims, the first building was returned to the Polish-Jewish community by the new government commission. It was the synagogue in Oswiecim, seized under a 1946 Communist decree stripping Jewish communities and individuals of buildings and land, and used as a carpet warehouse for the next fifty years. On 10 November 1998 the synagogue, near the site of the former Nazi camp of Auschwitz, was re-dedicated, and a Jewish educational and cultural centre on the premises was officially opened. The restored synagogue was officially opened in a ceremony held on 12 September 2000, attended by members of the Jewish community, Holocaust survivors, Roman Catholic clergy, and Polish and international political figures.
On 15 June 1998 the Jewish community in Bielsko Biala agreed to accept compensation of 562,000 zloties (US$189,000) in exchange for renouncing its rights to a building that once housed its offices and is now the district law court. The agreement was signed in Warsaw by representatives of the community and the town before the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland.
On 28 December 1998 the Jewish community in Gdansk reclaimed the 2,000-square metres of land on which the Great Synagogue that was destroyed by the Nazis during the Second World War had stood. The head of the Jewish community in Gdansk announced that a smaller version of the synagogue would be constructed at that site.
April 2001 President Kwasniewski vetoed legislation adopted in December 1999 that would have restricted the restitution of private property to
only those pre-war owners who are currently Polish citizens, clearly eliminating
most Jewish claimants who are are resident outside Poland and therefore not
Before 1998 there were 360 registered political parties
in Poland. At that time, under the law on party registration, only fifteen
signatures were required for a party to apply for registered status. At the
beginning of 1998, however, amendments to the law raised that number to 1,000.
All previously registered parties had to re-apply by June 1998 in accordance
with the new law.
The ultra-nationalist parties and groups that openly
espouse antisemitism, racism and, xenophobia as their principal raison
d'être are tiny and have little support among the population. On occasion,
however, more mainstream political parties and organizations tolerate similar
(if milder) rhetoric from their members.
In January 1999 the Sejm passed a resolution
commemorating the inter-war nationalist, anti-communist and antisemitic
political ideologue Roman
Dmowski as the 'father of Polish national
consciousness'. And, on 28 June 1999, Dmowski was honoured again when his
portrait was used on a commemorative stamp. In the post-Communist context,
Dmowski has become something of a 'role model' for the revival of Polish
national identity, regardless of the fact that his inter-war
Endecja movement was strongly
chauvinist, antisemitic and anti-German. Many of Poland's contemporary
right-wing nationalist parties claim to be the descendants of Endecja and
On 18 February 1999 in Warsaw the leader of the right-wing Zjednoczenie Chrzescijansko-Narodowe (ZChN, Christian-National Union), a component of the then-ruling AWS-UW government coalition, Marian Pilka, and the leader of the Italian neo-fascist Alleanza nazionale, Gianfranco Fini, signed an agreement providing for mutual support of their political initiatives in the international arena, closer ties and an exchange of information. Pilka said that both parties were intent on fighting 'godless' communism with 'civilization', and that their agreement might be the foundation of a European alliance for the preservation of so-called 'Latin civilization' (i.e. western Christianity, as opposed to eastern Orthodox Christianity). The same day Sejm Speaker Maciej Plazynski (AWS) met with Fini, describing him as one of the most important Italian contemporary politicians, and the next day Fini visited Auschwitz accompanied by two members of ZChN. The Italian's Polish visit was punctuated by protests: at the Sejm on 19 February about thirty young leftists demonstrated against his visit; the following day, in Krakow, a group of anarchists pelted him with eggs and snowballs, while they in turn were pelted by counter-demonstrators from the PWN-PSN. A year later, in April 2000, a ZChN spokesman, Michal Kaminski, provoked public criticism when he declared the party's support for the discredited slogan 'Poland for the Poles', widely understood as being antisemitic and xenophobic.
On 19 July 1999 a government spokesman for family affairs, Kazimierz Kapera, while referring in a speech to the birth of the six billionth inhabitant of the Earth, said that there was no reason to fear a shortage of food for the peoples of the world; the 'only thing to fear', he said, 'is whether we, as Europeans, as Europe and a white race, will have a say in the future'. A few weeks later, after public criticism of the remark, and demands by UW MPs for his dismissal, Kapera was forced to resign. The Deputy Speaker of the Sejm, Jan Krol (UW), said there was no room for such views in a government striving for EU membership.
On 31 August 1999 in Gdansk, a group of right-wing MPs—Jan Olszewski (ROP), Adam Slomka (Konfederacja Polski
Niepodleglej-Ojczyzna (KPN-O, Confederation for an Independent PolandFatherland)),
Pek (PSL), Marian Jurczyk (AWS)
and Halina Nowina-Konopczyna (one of the 'Nasze Kolo' (Our Circle) group of MPs
that broke with AWS)—attended a rally organized by the Stocznia Gdanska
(Association of Defenders of the Gdansk Shipyard) at which Kazimierz
Switon was a speaker. Amongst the anti-Jewish
remarks in his address, he said: 'We are being ruled by a
On 5 January 2000
the mainstream national daily Gazeta Wyborcza revealed that Marcin
Libicki (AWS)—an MP and chairman of the Polish delegation to the Parliamentary
Assembly of the Council of Europe—was also a member of the ultra-nationalist
group PN. The occasion for the revelation was the critical
stance taken by Libicki and two other Polish delegates to the Assembly, Tadeusz
Iwinski (SLD) and Andrzej Wielowieyski (UW), towards the appendix of a report on
extremist and anti-democratic movements and parties in Europe, which was put
forward at a meeting of the Assembly in Strasbourg. The appendix included a
section on Poland entitled 'Antisemitism without Jews' that discussed the
persistence of antisemitic prejudice in Poland despite the fact that the Jewish
community was no longer a large and visible group. In the Gazeta Wyborcza
article, the author of 'Antisemitism without Jews', Stefan Zgliczynski, referred
not only to Libicki's links to the extreme right in particular, but also to the
political and ideological influence of the PN and a nationalist discourse on
both the mainstream and centre-right parties in Poland. Zgliczynski criticized
the Polish political elite (both right and left) for marginalizing or even
denying the problems of antisemitism, racism, xenophobia and ultra-nationalism
as well as for legitimizing the nationalist discourse On 6 January, Gazeta
Wyborcza published replies to the article by the three delegates named by
In the spring of 2000, former president Lech Walesa
expressed disapproval over President Kwasniewski's participation in the 'national
pilgrimage' to the Vatican. During an interview broadcast on public
radio, Walesa said that Kwasniewski's visit to Rome was inappropriate due to his
alleged Jewish origins. Walesa, known for
his controversial statements, was widely criticized in the media. In a
speech in Bialystok in July 2000, during his presidential election campaign,
Walesa said he was sorry that he himself was not Jewish as then he 'would
probably be richer'.
In a speech in Bialystok in July 2000, during his presidential election campaign, Walesa said he was sorry that he himself was not Jewish as then he 'would probably be richer'.
In March 2001, Anda Rottenberg, director of the
state-sponsored Zacheta gallery in Warsaw, resigned her post after public
condemnation by some politicians and sections of the media. The occasion for the
criticism was the gallery's exhibition of the controversial sculpture by Italian
artist Maurizio Cattelano, depicting Pope John Paul II falling after being hit
by a meteor. The campaign against Rottenberg was initiated in late 2000 by two far-right Sejm
deputies—Halina Nowina-Konopczyna (see above) and Witold Tomczak (of the
ultra-conservative Porozumienie Polskie, Polish Alliance)—who suggested
that this 'public officer of Jewish origin' had spent the taxpayers' money in
Israel rather than in Poland, and called for her dismissal. Supporters of the call
argued that Rottenberg, by allowing the exhibition of such an image of a pope in
a public gallery, had dishonoured traditional Polish and Catholic values.
July 2000, a few months before the presidential
election, one of the candidates, fifty-five-year-old General Tadeusz Wilecki, a
former chief-of-staff of the Polish army (1992-7), appeared on the cover of the
weekly magazine Wprost with a group of supporters, all giving the Hitler
salute. The following month, Wilecki praised Hitler's housing
policy in a speech at an election rally in Gorzow Wielkopolski. Wilecki is well
known for his populist, anti-democratic and neo-fascist political views, and his
foray into mainstream politics has attracted only a small circle of supporters
(he received only 0.16 per cent of the vote).
A group of politicians condemned Wilecki's speech. Earlier, in 1999, when
Wilecki was a guest on the popular television show Tok-Szok, he said that
he would use the same dictatorial methods in Poland as General Pinochet employed
The Przymierze Samoobrona (Self-Defence Alliance) was founded in June 1992 by
former Communist Andrzej Lepper as the militant political wing of a radical
farmers' trade union of the same name. In recent years, however, it has
attracted support from a wider section of the population, including the rural
and urban unemployed, and small-business people finding it difficult to survive
the introduction of the free market. Samoobrona's ideology is, first and
foremost, populist and anti-European, though it is also clearly shot through
with an antisemitic and xenophobic sensibility, such as its members repeated
claim that Jews are responsible for the economic hardships that have accompanied
post-Communist reform in Poland. In the 2001 general election, despite being
previously regarded as marginal to mainstream politics, Samoobrona won 10.2 per
cent of vote, and acquired 53 seats in the Sejm (as well as 2 in the Senate),
making it the third largest party in parliament.
In March 1999, during a 'march against Warsaw',
Samoobrona activists displayed antisemitic slogans while protesting the
government's economic policy. In front of the Sejm, Samoobrona leader Andrzej
Lepper verbally harangued the Minister of Finance, Leszek Balcerowicz, shouting:
'Down with Balcerowicz! To Brussels! To Israel!' Later, in front of the Office
of the Council of Ministers, the crowd shouted: 'Traitors! Jews to Israel!'
The Catholic nationalist party, Liga Polskich Rodzin (LPR, League of Polish Families), is currently the strongest radical right party in Poland. Formed just before the 2001 general elections—in which it won 7.87 per cent of the vote, giving it 38 deputies in the Sejm as well as 2 in the Senate—it is a Polish version of far-right Western European parties, like the Front national in France or the FPÖ in Austria, that have capitalized politically on social discontent. In its campaign it received strong backing from radical Catholic circles and the conservative-nationalist media, including Nasz Dziennik and Radio Maryja. LPR opposes Poland's entry into the EU, and uses nationalist, xenophobic and often antisemitic rhetoric. Its leader, Roman Giertych, is a grandson of the famous nationalist ideologue of inter-war Poland, Jedrzej Giertych.
Among the organizations
that have become part of the LPR are the far-right Stronnictwo
Narodowe (SN, National Party), led by Maciej
Giertych—Roman's father—and its youth organization, Mlodziez Wszechpolska (MW, All-Poland Youth). On 7 March 1999, a day before the thirty-first
anniversary of the day in 1968 when the anti-Jewish campaign began (one that
drove almost 20,000 people out of Poland in late 1960s and early 1970s), the MW gathered in Sanok (south-east Poland) for a demonstration. A few dozen
skinheads were addressed by MW's local leader and, during the march, shouted 'Freedom Union to
Israel'—the liberal Freedom Union (UW) was then the junior
partner of the ruling AWS-UW coalition—and 'Poland for the Poles'.
The Ruch Odbudowy
Polski (ROP, Movement for the Reconstruction of Poland) is primarily an
anti-Communist and nationalist party, defending Poland against the onslaught of
post-Communist globalization. The party was represented in the Sejm until the
2001 elections, when it lost all its seats. However, the ROP was one of the
members of the coalition Blok Senat 2001,
formed two months before the September 2001 elections as an eleventh-hour
attempt to prevent the SLD-UP coalition from dominating both houses of
parliament. ROP statements have in the past included antisemitic rhetoric, such
as claims that the Polish government consists of 'Jewish Communists'. On 26
April 1998 its supreme council issued a statement expressing gratitude to
Cardinal Glemp and then-Prime Minister Buzek for 'defending the
The Prawica Narodowa (PN, National Right) is
led by one of its founders, Krzystof Kawecki, who
was elected to the Sejm in 1997 on the AWS list, and who, in 2000, was appointed
the deputy minister of education responsible for sport in the AWS-UW government. Several prominent mainstream
politicians on the right of the political spectrum have had close
links to the PN; for example, one of the PN's
candidates in the 1997 elections (standing on the AWS list) was Marek Biernacki
who, in 2000, became the Minister of Internal Affairs. The party has in the past
been keen to cultivate links with the electorally successful far-right parties
in Western Europe, particularly with the Front
national in France.
Wspolnota Narodowa-Polskie Stronnictwo Narodowe
(PWN-PSN, Polish National Fellowship-Polish National Party) was registered as a
political party in 1990, with branches in Warsaw, Krakow, Katowice and Wroclaw.
It is led by Boleslaw Tejkowski and publishes the paper
Mysl narodowa polska (Polish National Thought). The party has always been
marginal—some years ago, Tejkowski claimed a membership of 11,000—and it has
never been represented in parliament. The PWN-PSN is ultra-nationalist,
xenophobic and antisemitic. Tejkowski, a former Communist, once suggested that
the pope was a 'closet' Jew, and has been repeatedly involved in defamation and
libel suits. Its active members are now mostly young
skinheads. Recently, the group has been cultivating links with ultra-nationalist
'greens', an alliance recently formalized by the establishment of the KNZ.
The far-right Unia Polityki Realnej (UPR, Real Politics Union) recently elected Janusz Korwin-Mikke—the UPR's founder and first leader in the early 1990s—as chairman, replacing Stanislaw Michalkiewicz who was elected in March 1998. The party's manifesto includes calls for the abolition of personal income tax, corporate tax, inheritance and donation tax, as well as restoration of the death penalty and the introduction of corporal punishment. Korwin-Mikke, who was a presidential candidate in both 1995 and 2000, is known for his eccentric style, controversial statements and often racist and sexist remarks. He is the editor of the monthly, Najwyzszy Czas (Now Is the Time).
The Stronnictwo Narodowo-Demokratyczne (SND, National
Democratic Party) is another minor far-right party that has attempted in the past to
win parliamentary seats through an alliance with a mainstream grouping. In the
run-up to the 1997 election the SND formed a coalition with the PSL, which
gained only 7 per cent of the vote and none of its MPs were members of the SND.
Extra-parliamentary parties and
Skinheads first appeared in Poland in the mid-1980s. In
the period before the fall of the Communist regime, they engaged government
forces in street battles. Soon afterward, however, the movement took a rightward
turn, and by the 1990s most Polish skinheads were inhabiting the
ultra-nationalist far right, picking up on longstanding national prejudices
against Jews and Germans and extending them to include newer minority groups
(Roma, Africans, Asians etc.). The movement remains strong in Poland, and is
concentrated in urban centres, mainly Warsaw, Krakow, Lodz, Katowice, Gdansk,
Gdynia, Poznan and Wroclaw. According to estimates by the anti-fascist Stowarzyszenie 'Nigdy Wiecej'
(Never Again Association), there are at
present several thousand active far-right skinheads in Poland, while the number
of passive supporters and sympathizers may reach 20,000-30,000. Since Article
13 of the Constitution prohibits parties that
propagate Nazism or incite racial hatred, skinhead groups often use the tactic
of holding 'private meetings' (often in small-town clubs or discothèques), where
invited White Power rock bands from Poland and abroad perform, and Nazi-style
slogans are chanted. The police and security services have generally not
intervened in such meetings, despite complaints by local residents who feel
threatened by the presence of skinheads in their town.
Far-right skinhead activity is also evident at
matches and among football supporters. Numerous football fanzines publish
nationalist and racist material, and many prominent figures in the football
subculture openly subscribe to far-right ideas. The editor of one of the most
prominent football fanzines Szalikowcy (Scarf-holders), Tomasz Drogowski,
gave an interview to a skinhead magazine in which he stated that fascism was 'not a horrible
idea' and that 'national socialism is necessary and the only
means of cleansing the nation of Gypsies, punks and Negroes'.
The Narodowe Odrodzenie Polski (NOP, National Rebirth of Poland), led by Adam Gmurczyk, was officially registered in 1999, and is part of the International Third Position (ITP) movement. The NOP publishes the blatantly antisemitic and xenophobic magazine Szczerbiec (The Sabre), available at newsstands and large bookshops, which has an estimated circulation of 15,000 and which is apparently co-published by ITP leaders Derek Holland (UK) and Roberto Fiore (Italy). NOP members or supporters—some 30 per cent of whom are thought to be young skinheads—are often responsible for antisemitic and racist graffiti or other acts of vandalism: for example, the graffiti found in July 1999 in the town centre of Legnica—including 'Zydzi precz!' (Jews out!) and Stars of David hanging from gallows—was signed 'NOP'.
NOP members regularly take part in nationalist demonstrations—on such occasions as Constitution Day (3 May) and Independence Day (11 November)—and are also known for aggressive behaviour at football matches. In Lodz, the organization has published special recruitment leaflets aimed at supporters of the top division side LKS. One of the leading participants in NOP rallies in Warsaw, Damian Mikulski, was one of the leaders of the White Legion gang of Legia Warszawa supporters. (In 1998 Mikulski was arrested and is now serving a twenty-five-year jail sentence for the brutally murder of a teenage boy wearing a rival football strip.)
In October 1998 the Jewish biweekly Slowo
Zydowskie reported that members of NOP were distributing pamphlets in a
schools in Oswiecim that called for a 'holy war' against Judaism and the Jews. A
governor of the Bielsko Biala district reported the incident to the public
prosecutor's office. Shortly before this occurred, NOP members were seen at the
Auschwitz gravel pit, amongst other nationalists involved in the controversy over
The Polski Front Narodowy (PFN, Polish National Front) is a far-right group founded in 1994 by Janusz Bryczkowski, who claimed 700 members in its early years, many of whom were skinheads. The PFN has had little political success. Bryczkowski was unable to obtain the 100,000 signatures required to be an official candidate in the 1995 presidential election. During his April 1997 trial on fraud charges, Bryczkowski declared to the court: 'When I was taken into custody I was suspected of being a fascist or a Nazi . . . I can firmly state I am a national socialist and I shall start a fight against this Jewish system, a fight like nobody in this country has yet imagined.' The PFN maintains links with Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal-Democratic Party of Russia.
Associated with the PFN is another far-right youth formation, the Union of the White Eagle, which publishes the monthly Szaniec (Rampart).
According to the British anti-fascist magazine
Searchlight (September 2000), there
is evidence of Polish branches of the international Hammerskins
and Blood and Honour networks. At least sixteen young Poles, both
male and female, linked to these organizations attended the two-day so-called
Nordic Fest hosted by the Imperial Klans of America in Kentucky on 27-8 May
2000. The Polish participants were reportedly sponsored by a Chicago-based
Polish community group. Searchlight claimed that Poles 'dropped several
hundred dollars on the National Alliance/Resistance Records table for a stack of
Polish-language versions of [William
Pierce's] The Turner Diaries'.
There are several New Age or neo-pagan groups whose rhetoric and ideology are ultra-nationalistic. A recently formed umbrella organization of 'green' activists of the ecology movement and members of the far right is the Konfederacja dla Naszej Ziemi (KNZ, Confederation for Our Earth). One of its members is the neo-pagan, ultra-nationalist Stowarzyszenie na rzecz Tradycji i Kultury 'Niklot' ('Niklot' Association for Tradition and Culture). Its leader is Tomasz Szczepanski (aka 'Barnim Regalica'), who was, in the late 1990s, a member of the ROP. The 'Niklot' Association aims to preserve and cultivate Polish and Slavonic traditions, defend the national culture against 'cosmopolitan' influences and oppose Poland's entry into the EU. The organization has less than a hundred members, recruited mainly from skinhead and Black Metal music subcultures, mainly in Warsaw, Krakow and Szczecin, and publishes the Tryglaw magazine. In December 2000 a Warsaw court upheld the characterization of 'Niklot' by journalist Marcin Kornak as 'chauvinist and antisemitic'. Another ultra-nationalist neo-pagan movement is Stowarzyszenie Mlodziezy Patriotycznej 'Swiaszczyca' ('Swiaszczyca' Association of Patriotic Youth), which publishes the national-socialist magazine Securius.
The two principal dates in the calendar regularly
commemorated by Polish ultra-nationalists are 11 November (Independence Day, the
anniversary of Polish independence in 1918) and 3 May (known as Constitution
Day, the anniversary of the outbreak of the third Silesian uprising against
Germany in 1921).
On 11 November 1998, the eightieth anniversary of Polish
independence, several nationalist and neo-fascist demonstrations took place in
different parts of the country, including, according to the Never
Again Association, Warsaw, Krakow, Rzeszow and Stargard
Szczecinski. Among the organizers and participants were such groups as the
the SN, the Ruch Zjednoczenia Narodowego (National Union
Movement) and the
UPR. The protests were particularly directed against Polish
membership of the EU, and nationalist, antisemitic and xenophobic banners and
slogans were openly used.
On 3 May 1999, Constitution Day, several nationalist
demonstrations took place, once again organized by the NOP,
the SN, the Ruch Katolicko-Narodowy (RKN, Catholic-National
Movement) and the Narodowa Partia Robotnicza (National Workers'
Party). At Gora Swietej Anny near Opole,
demonstrators expressed anti-EU sentiments and burnt the EU flag. Antoni
Macierewicz, an AWS MP, made a speech in which he warned against Poland's entry
to the EU, calling it a 'new partition of Poland'. Participants were also
shouting anti-German slogans, directed especially against the German minority in
Poland. In Rzeszow, demonstrators chanted: 'We do not want a Jewish government'
and 'Poland for the Poles'.
On 11 November 1999, Independence Day, several
nationalist demonstrations took place that had an openly xenophobic and racist
character, particularly in Pila, Warsaw and Wroclaw.
On 3 May 2000 more than 300 people belonging to
nationalist organizations—including NOP,
the Union of the White Eagle, the
SN, the Stowarzyszenie 'Nie' dla Unii Europejskiej ('No to
Europe' Association) and the RKN—held a rally at
Gora Swietej Anny in the Opole province. Demonstrators shouted 'Opole's Silesia
forever Polish' and 'Down with German occupation', and burned the EU flag.
Representatives of the local German minority attended the official Constitution
Day commemoration, held the previous day.
On 11 November 2000 a group of some 400 nationalists gathered for a demonstration in Katowice (southern Poland) to celebrate the eighty-second anniversary of Polish Independence Day. Participants chanted antisemitic slogans and burned Israeli and EU flags. Although the demonstration was officially organized by the 'No to Europe' Association, that organization's leader, Tadeusz Mazanek, said only some 30 per cent were actually his members. According to the Polish Press Agency antisemitic chanting was led by Boguslaw Rybicki, a founder of the SN. Two days later prosecutors in Katowice launched an investigation to determine whether the demonstration violated laws against the public propagation of fascism and hate-mongering.
Antisemitism continues to manifests itself in different
forms and levels of intensity, mostly in the circles associated with ultra-nationalist groups, and those associated with
wing of the Catholic Church. In addition to
the destruction of Jewish property and virulent antisemitic propaganda,
antisemitic graffiti is readily seen on the streets of most Polish towns and
cities, and local authorities often take no action when complaints about it are
made. The list of antisemitic incidents below is by no means complete, and many
additional minor incidents were reported by both Jews and non-Jews who witnessed
or were on the receiving end of anti-Jewish comments or behaviour in the street,
at school, in various public places, as well as in private encounters.
Furthermore, grassroots and popular antisemitism is
present throughout Polish society. It persists, to various degrees, in all the
educational and professional sectors of the population, among supporters
of diverse political parties and among different generations. In its second
report on Poland (December 1999), ECRI considered antisemitism a significant
feature of Polish public life.
On the other hand, the struggle against antisemitism has visibly intensified, and various initiatives undertaken by volunteer associations, foundations, state and religious institutions (especially the Catholic Church) have demonstrated that much good will and the determination to combat such prejudice is also widespread among the Polish people.
There have been repeated desecrations of a Jewish
cemetery in Krakow, one of the largest in Poland. In October 1998 three rows of
graves were vandalized, including the oldest and most valuable headstones. There
were no witnesses to this attack, and no evidence of the motives of the
perpetrators. A few months later, in January 1999, more than fifty gravestones
were destroyed. The next incident occurred six months later, in June 1999, when
the local Jewish leader Tadusz Jakubowicz said there were indications that that
latest attack may have been linked to the row over the Auschwitz
crosses. (Some 300 crosses had been removed
from the gravel pit at Auschwitz on 28 May 1999.) Jakubowicz noted that
thirty-four tombstones were had white crosses painted on them, and told
journalists that he had received three anonymous phone calls saying: 'You can
remove those crosses now.'
8 November 1998 Fr
Henryk Jankowski resumed his sermons in Gdansk after a one-year break. He
had been suspended from his duties as parish priest of St Brygida's in November 1997
after making antisemitic remarks in a sermon that followed parliamentary
elections: he had said that the Polish nation was afraid of Jewish participation
in government and, indeed, that Jews should not participate in government. After
resuming his post Jankowski said he did not regret any of his statements.
Referring to the conflict over the crosses at
Auschwitz, he said that the demands of Jewish intellectuals that tried to
turn Auschwitz into an extra-territorial entity reminded him of Nazi policy.
January 1999 Fr Jankowski was once again in the news. In his parish church in
Gdan sk he was reported to be selling books claiming
that the Jews ruled Poland and that the Polish government and church officials
were in thrall to the Jews. After a number of bishops criticized him and he was
instructed by the Gdansk Metropolitan Curia to remove the bookstall from the
church, Fr Jankowski continued to sell the material from his home, located next
to the church. In an interview with the Catholic News Agency, he expressed
disagreement with the church officials and disputed that the books in question
were antisemitic. He maintained that there was freedom of expression in Poland
and that banning books was a return to totalitarianism.
sk he was reported to be selling books claiming that the Jews ruled Poland and that the Polish government and church officials were in thrall to the Jews. After a number of bishops criticized him and he was instructed by the Gdansk Metropolitan Curia to remove the bookstall from the church, Fr Jankowski continued to sell the material from his home, located next to the church. In an interview with the Catholic News Agency, he expressed disagreement with the church officials and disputed that the books in question were antisemitic. He maintained that there was freedom of expression in Poland and that banning books was a return to totalitarianism.
In January 1999 antisemitic slogans and Nazi symbols
were drawn on the gate of the Jewish cemetery in Cieszyn (southern Poland, on
the Polish-Czech border). Similar incidents have occurred at that cemetery in
On 15 February 1999 in Warsaw, Nazi symbols were painted on the Warsaw Ghetto monument in the former Umschlagplatz, including a swastika and a Star of David hanging from gallows, as well as slogans such as 'Jude raus' (Jews out).
On 15 April 1999 a group of locals in Rudna near Lubin (western Poland) beat to death a twenty-nine-year-old man who was waiting for a train at the local railway station. Afterwards the murderers used their victim's blood to paint a Star of David on the wall.
During the spring and summer of 1999, there were three
desecrations of the Jewish cemetery at Tarnow. On 4 May, six gravestones were destroyed, and antisemitic graffiti
were painted on the cemetery's gate. On 23 August, antisemitic and Nazi slogans
were painted on gravestones, including 'Jews to Israel!' and 'Come back, Hitler!'. Another attack was carried out the next day, 24 August, when Nazi
symbols appeared on both gravestones and the monument commemorating Jewish
victims of Nazism.
In September 1999, on Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New
Year), unknown persons broke into the only Jewish cemetery in Warsaw, smashing
tombstones, scrawling Satanic graffiti and strewing ashes, beer cans and other
rubbish. The executive director of the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in
Poland, Andrzej Zozula, said that the Warsaw police were investigating. He added
that the desecration appeared to have been the work of a satanic cult and it was
not clear whether antisemitism had been a motive. 'This type of thing has
happened to Christian cemeteries, too', Zozula said.
On 31 October 1999 in Wolomin (a town near Warsaw), during a sermon in the local church, Fr Jan Sikora blamed the Jews for Poland’s weak economic situation. He caricatured the Jewish attitude as follows: ‘Stalin gave us Poland and now we can do with Poland what we like.’ Fr Sikora went on to say that the Jews had sided with Poland’s enemies during the Second World War, first with the Germans and then with the Soviets. He alleged that the Nobel Prize-winning poet Wislawa Szymborska was a Jew, and that it was the ‘people like her’ that won the Nobel Prize, just as it was the Jews who were walking off with the White Eagle Medal, Poland’s highest official distinction.
In December 1999, the old Jewish cemetery in Lodz was daubed with antisemitic graffiti. In February 2000, the Canadian Jewish News published a report with photos of several examples of such graffiti in Lodz: on the only remaining synagogue, on a building on the site of the old Jewish cemetery, and on buildings near the synagogue that belong to the Jewish community. The graffiti included 'Jews out' (in Polish and German), 'Jews to the gas' and numerous drawings of the Star of David hanging from the gallows. The leader of the Lodz Jewish community, Symcha Keller, said the graffiti were the work of small neo-fascist groups and that everyone, including the Jewish community and the police, knew who was responsible. He claimed, however, that the Jewish community could not afford security and the local authorities had reacted with indifference. In March 2000, a local campaign was initiated to paint over the antisemitic (and racist) graffiti defacing Jewish property and the city streets in general.
Lodz was again, in March 2000, the site of antisemitic vandalism. On this occasion antisemitic slogans were scrawled on the walls of the house of Marek Edelman, the only surviving commander of the 1943 Jewish Warsaw ghetto uprising and now a 77-year-old cardiologist. The graffiti included a swastika, the name of a skinhead group and the phrase 'Jude raus' (Jews out). Both President Kwasniewski and Prime Minister Buzek sent letters of support to Edelman. Buzek's stated: 'Democracy cannot tolerate evil. I can assure you that this ignoble act will be met with the decisive reaction of the state. The hatred directed against you is hatred directed against every Pole, myself included.' Some of the mainstream media also strongly condemned the incident: one of the headlines in Gazeta Wyborcza read: 'Someone spat in our face.'
In January 2000, in Lelow near Czestochowa, several days
before a celebration of the 180th anniversary of the death of the
tsaddik (righteous person) Dawid
Biderman—in which more than one hundred Hasidic Jews from all over the world
participated—a group broke into the building near the tsaddik's grave and
painted antisemitic slogans. A group of local residents intervened and prevented
In March 2000, in Katowice, a swastika was painted
inside the building housing the offices of the local Jewish congregation.
In April 2000 a local school in the village of Dmosin (central Poland) decided to name itself after the well-known children's writer, Jan Brzechwa, an idea proposed by teachers and parents, and readily supported by the students' association. Other parents, however, protested by organizing a letter-writing campaign, arguing that Brzechwa was of Jewish origin—his real name was Lesman—and therefore should not be adopted as a writer by the school. Soon after, the school started receiving the letters, one of them stating that 'there is less and less room in Poland for genuine Poles'. A local Catholic priest took the protesters' side, saying that Brzechwa's works were not properly imbued with 'national and patriotic values'.
In April 2000, antisemitic and anti-Roma graffiti were painted on the wall of the Jewish cemetery in Oswiecim (Auschwitz). The perpetrators were not caught but the local authority paid to have the graffiti removed.
Also in April, on two successive nights, vandals in Krakow painted swastikas and antisemitic graffiti on the walls of a local museum. The museum once housed a pharmacy run by the only non-Jewish Pole to live in the Krakow ghetto, an individual who has been named among the 'righteous among nations' for help rendered to Jews during the war. The Auschwitz Museum authorities painted over the graffiti the following day but, that night, the antisemitic sloganswere redaubed over the fresh paint. These in turn were painted over the following day.
On 5 May 2000, the Jewish cemetery in Wadowice was
desecrated. Thirty-five gravestones were destroyed and windows in the funeral
house were smashed.
On 15 May 2000, in Tarnobrzeg, there was an unsuccessful
attempt to burn down the prayer house at the Jewish cemetery.
On 29 May 2000 in Wlodawa, antisemitic graffiti were
found on the walls of the local synagogue.
In September 2000 Slowo Zydowskie (Jewish Word), a Jewish biweekly published in Polish and Yiddish, reported that the Jewish cemetery in the town of Swidnica (south-west Poland) had been desecrated—tombstones had been smashed, overturned or daubed with vulgar inscriptions, information signs had been broken, and litter dropped everywhere—and that antisemitic graffiti had been daubed in the town centre.
In September 2001, in Wroclaw, during a session of the
Festival of Science entitled 'Poland: Poles and Jews in their common home',
which took place in the town hall, one of the panellists, Jerzy Robert Nowak, provoked his
co-panellists—Jerzy Kichler, president of the
Union of Jewish Religious Communities, Konstanty Gebert, former editor in-chief
of the Jewish monthly Midrasz, and Fr Michal Czajkowski, a well-known
author of works on Jewish topics—by making antisemitic remarks. Nowak, a
right-wing historian linked to Radio Maryja and known for a number of
aggressively antisemitic and chauvinistic books, as well as articles published
in Nasz Dziennik and
said he did not want to participate in a debate with Gebert and Fr Czajkowski.
After only a few moments, Kirchler and Gebert, together with some members of the
audience, left the room. Despite his willingness to debate with Nowak, Fr
Czajkowski also left the room, accompanied by shouts of 'Go to Israel!' Nowak
said that one should not only talk about antisemitism, but also about the 'anti-Polonism' of the Jews. A large section of the audience, especially elderly
and middle-aged people, applauded his remarks and, after the session, Nowak
signed autographs in front of the town hall. The festival organizer responsible for
inviting Nowak, Aleksandra Kubicz, said she had had no idea that Nowak was a
On 14 October 1998, in Warsaw, during the International Festival of Art Tattoos, a group of neo-fascists attacked and beat up a black tattoo-maker from Hamburg.
During December 1998, in Warsaw, the Wolumen market was
regularly being spray-painted with swastikas, particularly on a fast-food stall
run by Vietnamese immigrants.
On 17 December 1998, in Warsaw, three far-right skinheads aggressively provoked and insulted a black man on a public bus. An anti-fascist activist who attempted to defend the man targetted for abuse also became the object of the skinheads' aggression.
On 20 March 1999, in Raciborz, a local far-right skinhead beat up a black musician from the Czech Republic in front of a music club.
On 20 March 1999, in Katowice, four students from
Palestine and Syria were beaten up by a group of far-right skinheads. Police
arrested the perpetrators, one of whom had previously been arrested in Katowice
for attacking students from the United States in October 1998, although they
were apparently not charged.
At the beginning of June 1999, in Poznan, a group of
far-right skinheads verbally assaulted and attempted to beat up a student from
On 7 June 1999, in Krakow, the police apprehended two people who were harassing and intimidating an African student at the Jagiellonian University. They had been following the student on his way to his residence hall, threatening him with knives and saying they would kill him.
On 17 June 1999, in Kalisz, during the street theatre festival La Strada, four neo-fascists attacked and severely beat up an African actor, who was appearing at the festival.
On 8 August 1999, in Zakopane, two teenagers from Warsaw at a summer camp severely beat up a black teenager from Belgium, who was at another camp. The perpetrators were caught by police and admitted that the assault was racially motivated.
On 6 September 1999, in Wodzislaw Sl., a group of neo-fascists demonstrated in front of a cultural center where a concert by the Blues Rock Guitar Workshop, with African-American guitarist Carlos Johnson, was taking place. They shouted 'Poland for the Poles!' and 'Blacks out!'
In January 2000, in Gdansk, a group of far-right skinheads destroyed a car that belonged to the African-born Larry Okey Ugwu, a popular musician who had lived in Poland for fifteen years. The skinheads crashed the car and painted it with racist graffiti, including 'Nigger' and 'White Power'. The Ugwu family say they have been experiencing racist harassment for more than seven years. In an act of solidarity, a group of Gdansk artists organized a benefit concert to compensate Ugwu for his loss.
On 3 March 2000, in Katowice, a group of far-right skinheads attacked two foreign students from Kazakhstan and Israel. The police managed to arrest four of the five perpetrators.
On 8 March 2000, in Legnica, a group of neo-fascist football fans attacked a black man. The police intervened and arrested the perpetrators.
On 12 April 2000, in Lodz, two far-right skinheads attacked and beat up a black man. The victim was helped by passers-by, and the police arrested the attackers.
In July 2000, in Chodziez, two neo-fascists who worked as security guards at a local dance club verbally assaulted a black resident of the town, using a highly aggressive and threatening torrent of abuse.
In August 2000, in Krakow, the Buddhist community Karma Kagyu was attacked by a group of local racists. They destroyed the property and physically attacked those who were inside the building. It was not the first incident of this kind to threaten the Buddhist community, which had, in the past, suffered from violent attacks, window smashing and racist graffiti.
number of anti-Muslim and anti-Arab incidents took place after the 11 September
2001 terrorist attack on the United States. In Gdansk, the windows of the local
mosque were smashed. In Lodz, some Arab students were physically assaulted. In
Wroclaw, the attempted arson of an Arab restaurant was reported. Also in
Wroclaw, according to Gazeta Wyborcza, a professor at the medical academy
verbally racially abused an Arab student who had broken a disciplinary
Antisemitism and racism in sport Racist and antisemitic
slogans are increasingly used by football fans (and to a lesser degree in other sports) to
insult an opposing team or its supporters. In the city of
Lodz in central Poland (the second largest city in the country), the fans of
two competing local first-division teams, Widzew and LKS, have been using antisemitic
chants during football matches and painting antisemitic and Nazi graffiti on the walls
in different parts of the city. Among the slogans are those that combine the word
'Jew' with the name of a team (e.g. ‘Widzew-Zydzew’ or ‘LKS Jew’). Some
commentators argue that these slogans and chants are not anti-Jewish—in the
sense of being deliberate abuse directed at the Jewish community—but rather indications of how the meaning of the word 'Jew' has, in this
context, been vulgarized to convey simply contempt for 'the other side'.
Nonetheless, this increase in the use of antisemitic and neo-fascist rhetoric and
symbols coincides with the penetration of the football subculture by extremist
such as the NOP and other far-right skinhead groups, that regularly incite
xenophobic and racial hatred. On the other hand, sport has also been used as the focus for promoting a more
inclusive understanding of 'Polishness' and for the growing resistance among
sections of the population to xenophobic attitudes. The inclusion, for the first
time, of a non-white player, Emmanuel Olisadebe (see below), in the Polish national football team
is both an indication of increasing diversity and an
occasion for celebrating it. On 12 December 1998 in Warsaw, during a
second-division basketball game, fans of Polonia Warsaw chanted racist slogans
at a dark-skinned player of the opposing team, including ‘Out, ‘nigger’!’,
‘White Power!’ and ‘Ku Klux Klan!’ On 2 February 1999 in Stargard Szczecinski
(north-west Poland), during a first-division basketball game between the Elana
Torun and the local team Komfort, an African-American player for Komfort, Kalvin
Upshaw, was called 'czarnuch' ('Nigger') by Jaroslaw Darnikowski, a member of the opposing
team. Upshaw angrily threw the ball at his opponent, but later attempted to reconcile with Darnikowski,
at which point the
latter repeated his racist insult. In the end, the Polish
Basketball Association punished Upshaw for aggressive behaviour, and remained
silent on the question of Darnikowski's racist slur.
Antisemitism and racism in sport
Racist and antisemitic slogans are increasingly used by football fans (and to a lesser degree in other sports) to insult an opposing team or its supporters. In the city of Lodz in central Poland (the second largest city in the country), the fans of two competing local first-division teams, Widzew and LKS, have been using antisemitic chants during football matches and painting antisemitic and Nazi graffiti on the walls in different parts of the city. Among the slogans are those that combine the word 'Jew' with the name of a team (e.g. ‘Widzew-Zydzew’ or ‘LKS Jew’). Some commentators argue that these slogans and chants are not anti-Jewish—in the sense of being deliberate abuse directed at the Jewish community—but rather indications of how the meaning of the word 'Jew' has, in this context, been vulgarized to convey simply contempt for 'the other side'. Nonetheless, this increase in the use of antisemitic and neo-fascist rhetoric and symbols coincides with the penetration of the football subculture by extremist organizations, such as the NOP and other far-right skinhead groups, that regularly incite xenophobic and racial hatred.
On the other hand, sport has also been used as the focus for promoting a more inclusive understanding of 'Polishness' and for the growing resistance among sections of the population to xenophobic attitudes. The inclusion, for the first time, of a non-white player, Emmanuel Olisadebe (see below), in the Polish national football team is both an indication of increasing diversity and an occasion for celebrating it.
On 12 December 1998 in Warsaw, during a second-division basketball game, fans of Polonia Warsaw chanted racist slogans at a dark-skinned player of the opposing team, including ‘Out, ‘nigger’!’, ‘White Power!’ and ‘Ku Klux Klan!’
On 2 February 1999 in Stargard Szczecinski (north-west Poland), during a first-division basketball game between the Elana Torun and the local team Komfort, an African-American player for Komfort, Kalvin Upshaw, was called 'czarnuch' ('Nigger') by Jaroslaw Darnikowski, a member of the opposing team. Upshaw angrily threw the ball at his opponent, but later attempted to reconcile with Darnikowski, at which point the latter repeated his racist insult. In the end, the Polish Basketball Association punished Upshaw for aggressive behaviour, and remained silent on the question of Darnikowski's racist slur.
On 6 March 1999 in Kielce, during a second-division football match, far-right supporters of Korona Kielce shouted racist invectives at Frankline Moudoh, a player in their own side from Cameroon. They also displayed a banner that read: ‘Nigger, you have to leave, Korona is for Whites only’. The management and players of both football clubs condemned the incident and the supporters in question were barred from the stadium.
In November 1999, during a handball game between Polish and Israeli teams in Kielce, antisemitic slogans were shouted at the Israeli players.
In October 2000 Emmanuel Olisadebe (see above), a black football player, then playing for Polonia Warsaw, was pelted with bananas after he scored the only goal in a match in Lubin (south-west Poland) against the local team Zaglebie. Some time before this incident, the Nigerian-born Olisadebe had been granted Polish citizenship and become an admired member of the Polish national team, the first ever non-white player to play in the Polish squad. Before joining the national side, Olisadebe had already been the target of racist chanting during matches, as well as having been spat at by another player.
Other African players who joined Polish clubs in the mid-1990s also encountered racial prejudice. Rafal Pankowski of the Never Again Association quoted the Cameroon-born Polish football player Frankline Mudoh as saying that a number of native-Polish players put pressure on coaches not to include black players in the team.
Incidents involving Roma
A report issued by the Never Again Association, published in March 2000, documented almost thirty
cases of discrimination or racist violence against Roma in Poland in 1997-9,
most of them carried out by members of far-right groups or local hooligans.
Despite the fact that the number of anti-Roma incidents has declined since the
early 1990s, Gypsies continue to be the most discriminated-against minority in
From the beginning of October 1998, the parents of
children at one primary school in Poznan have been protesting the encampment of some
Romanian Gypsies in the nearby allotment gardens. The Roma were falsely accused
of harassing Polish children and of posing a 'threat' to their neighbours. A
police investigation revealed that the Roma were a very small and quiet group of
On 31 October 1998, in Chorzow (southern Poland), a group of far-right skinheads beat up and verbally assaulted a twenty-three-year-old Roma man. On 18 November the local court temporarily held one of the perpetrators of the attack, a seventeen-year-old neo-fascist.
On 15 December 1998, also in Chorzow, three neo-fascists attacked the apartment of a Roma family. First they smashed the windows, and then burned a baby carriage on the staircase. The perpetrators shouted racist abuse during the attack. The Roma had previously received death threats, which had stopped them from reporting this and earlier incidents.
In September 1999, British Prime Minister Tony Blair
sent a letter to the Polish authorities calling for an improvement in the
conditions of Poland's Roma community, 400 of whom had asked for political
asylum in Great Britain, claiming to be victims of racial persecutions in
Poland. Blair threatened to introduce a requirement for entry visas for Polish
citizens if discrimination against the Roma community did not stop. In response,
the Polish government described Roma emigration as an economic phenomenon,
choosing not to mention the dozens of incidents experienced by members of the Roma
community on a daily basis.
In September 1999, David Holley published an article in
the Los Angeles Times reporting on numerous examples of anti-Roma
comments and graffiti found in the city of Tarnow. Examples given were: 'Gypsies
go away', 'Gypsies to the gas' and 'It's good the Germans killed you'.
On 25 September 1999, in Andrychow, after a rock
concert, a group of far-right skinheads provoked a street fight between
themselves, members of the concert's audience and local Roma youths. They
severely beat up a sixteen-year-old girl and attempted to strangle her (she had
to be taken to a specialized hospital). Some of the skinheads had come for what
they called a 'city clean-up' action against Roma.
In October 1999, it was reported that, on the fence of
the Piotrkow Trybunalski railway station, there was an advertisement for a
low-cost hotel that included the statement: 'The hotel does not accept Romanian
citizens.' The hotel's owner, who in the past had many Romanian and Romanian-Roma clients, had decided to stop renting rooms to Romanian citizens in
an attempt to upgrade the standard of the hotel. Reacting to this incident, a
spokesperson for the city's mayor made the following unfortunate statement: 'We
are embarrassed that such a thing has happened in our city, because now the
whole of Piotrkow is being accused of discriminating against other
nationalities. It should have been done in a more low-key and polite way. A note
on the check-in form that Romanian citizens were not welcome would have been
On 30 October 1999, in Lomza (eastern Poland), a group of young men fire-bombed a car belonging to a Roma man. The perpetrators were heard shouting racist anti-Roma abuse at the man. The next day, in the same neighborhood, the brother of the victim was beaten up after he attempted to trace the perpetrators.
On 9 November 1999, in Limanowa (southern Poland), a
meeting took place in the local authority office building between the local
authorities and a group of residents who were demanding that a number of Roma
residing in their neighbourhood be removed, and the premises be cordoned off.
They also objected to members of Roma community being allowed to register in
apartments. The residents threatened to resolve the 'problem' themselves if the
local authorities did not act.
On 14 November 1999, in Krosnica, a group of local
residents burned down three houses in a Roma neighbourhood, injuring about
thirty people. The 'unknown' perpetrators told journalists: 'We burned three
cabins, we will burn the rest. For a Gypsy there is no place here. We will kill
all of them. A good Gypsy is a dead Gypsy.' The police took no action.
On 13 April 2000, in Bytom, an arson attack occurred in the apartment of a Roma family. A thirty-four-year-old suspect was arrested by the police the following day. Some time before the incident, the graffito 'Gypsies to the gas' was daubed on the walls of the same building.
In April 2000, during a
meeting with leaders of the
‘Otwarta Rzeczpospolita’ Stowarzyszenie Przeciwko Antysemityzmowi i
('Open Republic' Association against Antisemitism and
Xenophobia), Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek promised to crack
down on antisemitic and xenophobic publications being sold openly at newsstands and in a number
of bookshops, including EMPiK, the largest bookstore chain in Poland.
Bubel, one of the most virulent antisemites in Polish public life, has,
through his Wydawnictwo Narodowe publishing company, been publishing antisemitic
and ultra-nationalist books and pamphlets since the early 1990s. In 1995 Bubel was a presidential
candidate but, after being accused of being antisemitic by the journalist and
sociologist Jerzy Diatlowicki during a live pre-election television programme,
he won only 0.04 per cent of the vote. Bubel has been active in nationalist and
radical Catholic circles during the conflict over the crosses
at Auschwitz and he supported the 'revisionists' in the Jedwabne
debate. Among the titles published by Wydawnictwo Narodowe and currently
available in some mainstream newsagents and bookshops, are the following:
Polish translation of The
Protocols of the Elders of Zion;
second edition of Dariusz Ratajczak’s Tematy niebezpieczne (Dangerous
po zydowsku (Jewish Humour), a
pamphlet published in the mid-1990s, containing a collection of offensive
Poland), a nationalist-Catholic monthly, containing antisemitic and
xenophobic articles, the subtitle of which reads: ‘Are you a Pole? You are
Poznaj Zyda (Get to Know the Jews), a series, containing at least ten volumes, of anti-Jewish propaganda, covering a wide range of topics, from the Talmud to Jewish Communists
byc Polakiem (Fear of Being Polish)
by Henryk Pajak, 50,000 copies of which are available in the EMPiK chain of
Kwartalnik narodowy (National Quarterly), a periodical of the Stowarzyszenie Przeciwko Antypolonizmowi (Association against Anti-Polonism);
narodowy (National Monthly), a
periodical of the anti-EU opposition.
January 1999 Fr Henryk Jankowski was
reportedly selling offensive material from a bookstall in his parish church in
Gdansk. Church officials forced him to remove the stall from the church,
although Fr Jankowski apparently continues to sell the books privately. The
books on offer include Jan Marszalek’s Broniac krzyza bronimy Polski
the Cross We Defend Poland)—a
celebration of the Catholic fundamentalists who erected hundreds of crosses in
the gravel pit outside Auschwitz in 1998—and brochures entitled Pray
for Us: Fr Jankowski and the Jewish Problem in Poland and the World
and Your Guilt, O Israel, Arises
In June 2001, Gazeta
Wyborcza reported on the reprinting of a book entitled Przez Morze
Czerwone ku Gettom Europy (Through the Red Sea
to the Ghettos of Europe). The book,
published by World Media in Wroclaw, was written in 1942 as a piece of Nazi
propaganda by Wladyslaw Bocquet. It was purported to be a ‘scholarly’
history of the Jewish people and was intended to serve as a ‘justification’
for the ‘Final Solution of the Jewish question’. In December 2001
prosecutors in Wroclaw charged the owner of World Media, Krzysztof M., with
‘propagating fascist ideology and inciting racial hatred’ as well as
‘publicly offending a particular ethnic group’. About 5,000 copies of the
book were sold before the media and the courts intervened.
early 2000, the publishing house
Bellona, which is supported by the Ministry of Defence, was forced to scrap its plans
publish a monograph by David Irving in
its 'Brown Series', which includes books on various aspects of Nazism, and to
host Irving's promotional tour of Poland. The change of plans followed protests from various quarters, including
journalists of the Never Again Association's publication of the
same name, Nigdy Wiecej (Never Again).
Despite the protests, Bellona still employs Bartlomiej Zborski, Irving's Polish
translator and a regular contributor to the NOP's
Despite the protests, Bellona still employs Bartlomiej Zborski, Irving's Polish translator and a regular contributor to the NOP's Szczerbiec.
mainstream daily Nasz Dziennik
an estimated circulation ranging from 100,000 to 300,000—is closely linked to
the radical Catholic Radio Maryja. It has a strongly conservative orientation
and often uses a nationalistic or xenophobic discourse. Politically Nasz Dziennik
supports the LPR
and opposes Poland’s entry into the European Union.
Polska (Our Poland)
is a weekly
magazine that includes overtly antisemitic material.
For example, in an interview with a member of the neo-fascist rock band
Deportacja ’68 (published 30 September 1998), the antisemitic campaign of
March 1968 was described as ‘one of the very few positive acts of
A number of mainstream
right-wing politicians and other public figures have written articles in or
given interviews to Nasza Polska, among them Ryszard Czarnecki, Henryk Goryszewski and
Jerzy Kropiwnicki (AWS), Jan Olszewski (ROP),
Janusz Dobrosz and Bogdan Pek (PSL) and others.
Mysl Polska: Tygodnik poświęcony życiu i kulturze Narodu (Polish Thought: A Weekly Dedicated to the Life and Culture of the Nation) (circulation c. 18,000), is a magazine published by Jan Engelgard that uses somewhat veiled antisemitic material, such as pseudo-anthropological ‘analyses’ of Jewish features or discussions of the role of Jews in Polish history. The following was published on 19 March 2000: 'One can often meet persons with natural olive-coloured skin and characteristic features. Surprises come when one gets to know them more closely. Then one learns strange names or names "so Polish-sounding" that one wonders about them. We know that after 1945 many people of the trading religion changed their names.' Mysl Polska also includes a column promoting the far-right youth organization MW.
(For Our Illustrious Republic) is an aggressively antisemitic bi-monthly published by SELEN
Publishing and edited by Andrzej Reymann. The front-page headline of the August 2001 issue,
covering the Jedwabne
debate and the parliamentary elections, read: ‘Don’t
vote for a Jew!’ The periodical is stocked by the two largest newsagents, Ruch
and Kolporter, and is sold in the EMPiK chain of bookstores.
Pismo postkonserwatywne (Stanczyk:
The Post-Conservative Magazine) has been published since 1986, first as a
forum for the anti-Communist opposition and including a broad spectrum of
right-wing opinion. It has now developed into a magazine with a
quasi-intellectual and ultra-conservative orientation, containing rather covert
antisemitic rhetoric. Stanczyk has also published Holocaust-denial
material. Its current editor-in-chief is Tomasz Gabis, who has called himself a
‘fascist with a human face’.
Ojczyzna (Fatherland) is a biweekly published by Boguslaw Rybicki of the Ojczyzna publishing company. It includes articles on a wide range of issues concerning Polish and international politics, and has links to a number of nationalist organizations and right-wing media in Europe, the United States (especially among Polish-American circles) and the Middle East. Its ideology is aggressively antisemitic, anti-American and anti-Israel.
(NSR, National Rock Scene) is a magazine promoting
neo-Nazi/White Power music, edited by Michal Bechta. NSR contains
articles on and interviews with neo-Nazi skinhead rock groups, and also runs a
mail-order business of the same name, selling neo-Nazi tapes and CDs, posters and other items. In
January 2000 the local prosecutors in Debica decided against pursuing an
investigation against NSR, as its activity ‘was not of the criminal
On 15 February 1998, the local prosecutors in Olsztyn charged the editors of a local magazine of the Warmia region, entitled Warmia, with ‘offending people in public on grounds of their nationality as well as propagating fascist ideology’.
of the most popular radio stations in Poland is the
Maryja, founded in the mid-1990s and headed by Fr Tadeusz Rydzyk of the
Redemptorists order. Although Radio Maryja's
appeal is probably primarily religious rather than political, it has an ultra-conservative and populist ideological profile, in opposition to the
post-Communist project of liberal democracy, market-oriented capitalism and
multiculturalism: it is against economic reform, privatization and the market
economy; it propagates nationalism and uses xenophobic language; and it
explicitly and aggressively opposes Poland’s entry into the European Union.
Its presenters and guest interviewees often use antisemitic and xenophobic rhetoric. According to the mainstream weekly Polityka (October 1999), Radio
Maryja’s audience numbers 4-6 million. Surveys conducted in 1999 showed
that most of them were women, people over 50 years old (especially retired people
and pensioners; younger listeners constituted about 30 per cent of the audience),
people with lower educational levels and low income, and small-town- and
village-dwellers rather than urbanites. A significant part of Radio
Maryja’s programming is devoted religious issues, although there are also
phone-in programmes that allow listeners to express their opinions on various
political and social issues. Radio
Maryja is ideologically and materially linked to Nasz
Dziennik, whose columnists participate in its broadcasts. Fr Rydzyk has
also founded a mass movement called Rodzina Radia Maryja (Radio Maryja Family)
which is supported by a group of right-wing politicians (including the ex-AWS
parliamentary group Nasze Kolo (Our Circle) and its leader Jan Lopuszanski). The
successful electoral campaign of LPR
in September 2001, resulting in it winning 38 parliamentary seats, was due in
part to the efforts of Radio Maryja and its supporters. Despite the station’s
religious profile and declared loyalty of the Catholic Church, members of the
Polish episcopate as well as the Pope himself have criticized it. Radio Maryja has, in
turn, criticized those liberal bishops and members of the Polish clergy who are
engaged in inter-faith dialogue and Christian–Jewish reconciliation.
On 2 February 1999 the appeal court in Warsaw reversed an earlier decision and declared that the weekly fifteen-minute television programme WC Kwadrans, produced and presented by Wojciech Cejrowski in the early and mid-1990s, had a ‘fascist profile’. This characterization was first used by the well-known film director Piotr Lazarkiewicz, who had sent a letter of protest about the programme to the Krajowa Rada Radiofonii i Telewizji (National Radio and Television Council). Cejrowski took legal action against Lazarkiewicz for defamation, and was initially successful in the courts. In the programme, which had been shown on public television, Cejrowski often expressed extremely conservative and xenophobic views, as well as his far-right political sympathies.
15 December 1998 the mainstream radio station RMF FM made public the existence
of a website entitled Wirtualne Zwirowisko (Virtual Gravel Pit) which,
after RMF FM’s intervention, disappeared from the Internet. The website was
devoted to the nationalist perspective in the conflict over the Auschwitz
crosses. It contained a number of images of crosses, and users could add
their own crosses with comments, most of which were extremely racist and vulgar.
In April 2000 prosecutors in Lodz managed to remove the website of the magazine Szaniec Lodzki (Lodz Ramparts) that included antisemitic contents, including insulting comments about Marek Edelman. Several days later, Szaniec Lodzki re-opened the website by means of an American server.
In July 2000, the weekly magazine Wprost reported that there were about 100 Polish websites that could be classified as ‘hate sites.’ Some of them expressed explicit support for genocide, such as the website of the NOP which called for the extermination of the Jews in Poland.
December 1998 the Polish parliament passed legislation
governing the work of the Komisji Scigania Zbrodni przeciwko Narodowi Polskiemu
(Commission for Investigating Crimes against the Polish Nation),
a part of the newly established IPN
(Institute of National Remembrance). Article 55 of the law creates grounds for
the prosecution of Holocaust denial: ‘Whoever publicly, and contrary to the
facts, denies the crimes committed against people of Polish nationality or
Polish citizens of other nationalities in the period between 1 September 1939
and 31 December 1989—Nazi crimes, Communist crimes or other crimes, such as
crimes against the peace, crimes against humanity or war crimes—is subject to
a fine or imprisonment of up to three years, the sentence to be publicly
November 1998 issue of the Jewish biweekly magazine Slowo
Zydowskie reported on comments made by Professor Piotr Jaroszynski, Doctor
Habilitatus of the Philosophy of Culture at Lublin Catholic University, during
the 1998 municipal elections. When Jaroszynski—who was the campaign manager
for Rodzina Polska (Polish Family), a group associated with and supported by Radio
Maryja—was asked about Auschwitz in the course of an interview with a
journalist, he said: ‘In order to judge one must have source material. If I
had source material—relating in the first place to the question of whether
Jews were really being killed there and how many of them were killed and whether
people of other religions were also being killed—then I could judge. But the
reporting is so manipulated that I have nothing to rely on.’ According to Slowo
Zydowskie Jaroszynski suffered no legal or academic consequences.
April 1999 Dariusz Ratajczak, a thirty-seven-year-old history professor at
the University of Opole (southern Poland), was suspended from his teaching post
following protests over his book Tematy
Topics), which treated Holocaust denial sympathetically. In the book,
published at the author’s own expense in more than 300 copies, Ratajczak
appears to agree with those who contend that there was no plan for the
destruction of the Jews, that for technical reasons it was impossible to kill so
many people in the gas chambers as are generally agreed, that Zyklon B gas was
used only as a disinfectant, and that most Holocaust scholars ‘are adherents
of a religion of the Holocaust’. When questioned by a journalist for the
mainstream Gazeta Wyborcza, Ratajczak
said that he had only presented the views of other scholars and refrained from
presenting his own. Ratajczak, who was in the early 1990s an active member of SN, recommended his book to his students, although the students said he
had not taught them such views. In reaction to the publication of the book,
Jerzy Wroblewski, director of the Auschwitz Museum, wrote a letter of protest to
the rector of the University of Opole and to Witold Kulesza, head of the
Commission for Investigating Crimes against the Polish Nation of the IPN. The
latter, which stated that the book’s author was either ignorant of history or
was distorting it, and had therefore shown himself unqualified to teach, was
published in Gazeta Wyborcza
in March 1999. Kulesza filed a complaint against Ratajczak under Article
55 of the recently passed legislation (quoted above) with the local prosecutor
in Opole. When the prosecutor in turn filed a suit against the author of Tematy
niebezpieczne, Ratajczak was suspended
from his job. On 31 May Ratajczak was formally charged.
September 1999 the mainstream weekly Polityka
reported that the second edition of Ratajczak’s book, published by Leszek
Bubel’s publishing company, was available for purchase at newsstands in
Opole. According to Polityka, the
prosecutors in Opole were refusing to consider the case of the second edition
because its publisher was registered in another district. The second edition of
the book contained a foreword by Ratajczak in which he distanced himself from
Holocaust denial. However, he maintained that, while there were gas chambers,
the number of six million Jewish victims was very much exaggerated.
16 November 1999 the trial against Ratajczak opened in Opole. He repeated his
earlier statements that he had merely summarized opinions of western scholars
who deny the Holocaust, and that he did not subscribe to such views. In December
the regional court in Opole decided that, while Ratajczak was guilty of
spreading Holocaust denial in his book, it would waive punishment, both
because Ratajczak’s views were a 'minor public annoyance' and
because he had in the meantime moderated his views and statements on the Holocaust.
In April 2000 Ratajczak was dismissed from the University of Opole and banned from teaching elsewhere in Poland for the next three years.
December 2001 the local appeal court in Opole again found Ratajczak guilty of Holocaust
denial but, again, because Ratajczak’s activity was
considered to represent only a 'minor public annoyance' the case was adjourned
for one year when the court will reconvene to consider it again. Ratajczak was,
however, fined 300 zloties (c. US$72) to be paid to an orphanage.
January 2000 Ryszard Bender, a history professor at Lublin Catholic University,
was a special guest on Radio Maryja
in Torun (northern Poland). During the broadcast Bender defended Dariusz
Ratajczak, and said that Auschwitz was not a concentration camp but a labour
camp. Bender’s comments were condemned by a group of scholars of the Warsaw
University, the administration of Lublin Catholic University as well as the
Archbishop of Lublin, Jozef Zycinski.
In March 2000 the University Senate of Lublin Catholic University issued a statement condemning Bender’s views and announcing the intention to initiate legal proceedings against him. The local prosecutors in Torun also filed a lawsuit against Bender. In July, however, the University Senate called off its disciplinary action against Bender. It explained that it had done so following the decision by the Torun prosecutor’s office to drop its investigation on the grounds that Bender did not deny the crimes of the Nazis, but only referred to the views of other scholars.
In a September 1998 opinion poll concerning the conflict over the Auschwitz crosses carried out by OBOP (Public Opinion Research Center) among a sample of Polish citizens, 15 per cent of those polled supported the presence of hundreds of crosses at the gravel pit at Auschwitz, 30 per cent thought that the Papal cross should be removed, and 20 per cent thought that a monument should be erected in place of the crosses in order to commemorate the Polish victims of Auschwitz. The same poll included questions about Poles' attitudes towards Auschwitz and the Holocaust. Only a tiny minority thought Auschwitz was a place of either exclusively Jewish (5 per cent) or exclusively Polish martyrdom (8 per cent). Almost 50 per cent characterized Auschwitz as a place where diverse peoples were murdered. Slightly more than half of the sample thought that Poles respected Jewish sensitivities regarding Auschwitz, although less than one-quarter thought that Jews respected Polish sensitivities. As to who suffered most during the Second World War, 50 per cent thought that the Poles did, 28 per cent the Jews, and 11 per cent that such comparisons were impossible.
A poll was published in September 1999 by the Centrum Badania Opini Spolecznej (CBOS, Centre for Public Opinion Research) regarding Polish attitudes to minorities. It was conducted in August among a sample of 1,030 Poles: 35 per cent of respondents correctly estimated the approximate number of those of non-Polish origin in the population (i.e. about 3.5 per cent), while 34 per cent overestimated it and 8 per cent underestimated it. When asked to indicate which minorities in Poland were the largest, respondents listed, in order, Germans, Jews, Roma, Ukrainians and Belarusans, wildly overestimating the number of Jews and Roma. When asked which groups they most liked or disliked, more than one-third disliked Roma, Jews and Ukrainians; the most likeable groups were Czechs (43 per cent) and Slovaks (42 per cent). The results were compared with the same poll conducted in 1994 in which 54 per cent said they disliked Roma and Ukrainians, and 37 per cent said they disliked Jews.
An opinion poll on Polish-Jewish relations conducted by CBOS in July 2000 showed that 70 per cent of respondents had no personal contact with Jews. At the same time 55 per cent admitted hearing antisemitic remarks, such as 'the Jews rule Poland', and about one-third said they had seen antisemitic slogans or images displayed in public. About three-quarters of those polled supported punishment for antisemitic activities: 34 per cent said people writing antisemitic graffiti should be punished by law, 53 per cent said such people should be publicly denounced but not suffer legal consequences and 6 per cent were against any sanctions. Slightly more than one-quarter supported legal measures against Holocaust denial: 54 per cent said they should be denounced publicly without legal consequences and 9 per cent said there should be no sanctions. More than half the non-Jewish respondents agreed with the statement 'Jews are our elder brethren in faith' and 25 per cent disagreed (a similar poll four years earlier recorded only 40 per cent in agreement with this statement and 39 per cent in disagreement).
An October 2000 opinion poll, also conducted by the CBOS, asked respondents about their attitudes to different nationalities. Among the nationalities most liked by the Poles surveyed were Americans (the highest scoring group), the French, Italians, English and Swedes. Among the least liked were Serbs, Russians, Ukrainians, Romanians and, with the lowest score, Roma.
In April and August 2001, the CBOS carried out opinion polls regarding Poles' attitudes to the Jedwabne massacre. In April, 83 per cent said they had heard about the pogrom, a figure that rose to 90 per cent in August. When asked to identify the perpetrators of the crime, a large number said the Germans only (41 per cent in April, 32 per cent in August), many fewer said Germans and Poles (16 per cent in April and 19 per cent in August), and fewer still said only Poles (9 per cent in April and 11 per cent in August). At the same time approximately one-third (31 per cent in April, 33 per cent in August) said that it was 'difficult to say' who the perpetrators were. 61 per cent said they followed the news about the commemoration ceremony in Jedwabne on 10 July. Only 36 per cent thought that the ceremony and the Polish bishops' prayers would contribute to Polish-Jewish reconciliation, while 44 per cent thought they would not, and 20 per cent had no opinion.
According to a survey of attitudes to foreigners conducted by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and published in the Polish edition of Newsweek in September 2001, the most accepted foreigners living in Poland are Americans (60 per cent approval, 17 per cent disapproval), Germans (51 per cent and 28 per cent) and Italians (48 per cent and 22 per cent). The least accepted are nationals of the neighbouring countries to the east: Russians (16 per cent approval and 65 per cent disapproval), Belarusans (15 per cent and 62 per cent) and Ukrainians (15 per cent and 64 per cent).
Legislation regarding concentration camps
On 10 April 1999 the Sejm passed (251 votes for, 96 against, 21 abstentions) the Former Nazi Extermination Camp Sites Protection Act, regarding Auschwitz, Majdanek, Sztutowo, Rogoznica, Treblinka, Chelmno, Sobibor and Belzec (see also Crosses at Auschwitz and Auschwitz and other Holocaust sites). The law prohibits business activity within a 100-metre zone around the former camps and requires special permits for public gatherings. Furthermore, it gives the authorities the power to remove crosses from the gravel pit as well as to terminate the lease held by the SOW. On 22 April 1999 the bill was amended by the Senate to allow the Papal cross to remain at the site, although this amendment was rejected by the Sejm on 7 May, the day before the bill was signed into law by President Kwasniewski.
There is no comprehensive anti-discrimination law in Poland at present. There are, however, several legal anti-discrimination provisions available. Article 32 of the Constitution, which came into force in October 1997, establishes the principle of equality before the law and the unconstitutionality of discrimination 'for any reason whatsoever'. Article 13 includes a ban on political parties and other organizations that 'promote in their programmes totalitarian methods and practices of Nazism, fascism and communism as well as those whose programme or activities assume or accept racial and national hatred'. Article 35 provides for the right of Polish citizens belonging to national and ethnic minorities to maintain and develop their own languages, customs and traditions, as well as the development of their own cultures; it also includes provision of the right of these minorities to create their own educational and cultural institutions to protect their religious and cultural identities.
A controversial new law on national and
ethnic minorities was drafted by the Parliamentary Commission for National and
Ethnic Minorities in 1993, and has been under consideration by the Sejm ever
since. It defines a national minority as a 'a group of a distinct origin,
traditionally residing on the territory of the Polish state and constituting a
[numerical] minority as compared to the rest of society, and which is
characterized by the wish to preserve its language, culture, traditions and
national (or ethnic) consciousness' (Article 2).
The current criminal code, which came into force in September 1998, includes several anti-discriminatory measures. Article 118 institutes specific penalties for the murder or physical injury of a person belonging to any ethnic, racial, political or religious group with an intent to destroy in full or in part that group. And Article 119 punishes the use of violence or threats towards an individual or group because of their national, ethnic, political or religious affiliation. Article 256 criminalizes the public propagation of fascist or totalitarian ideologies and the incitement to national, ethnic, racial or religious hatred, and Article 257 punishes the public insult of a group or individual because of their national, ethnic, racial or religious affiliation.
Article 11.3 of the Labour Code prohibits discrimination in employment on the grounds of gender, age, disability, race, nationality, belief (especially political or religious) or trade union membership.
Trials and prosecutions
of xenophobic hatred are rarely brought before the courts. In its second
report on Poland (adopted in December 1999) ECRI
reported that, in the year ending
September 1999, only 6 out of a total of 36 cases reported to the authorities
1998 a court in Lublin fined twenty-five-year-old Krzysztof R., a student of one
of the city’s universities, 3,000 zloties (c. US$750) for distributing a
pamphlet entitled Duma naszego miasta
(Pride of Our City) at street
stalls and in churchyards. The pamphlet contained excerpts from Hitler’s Mein
Kampf, letters of Mussolini and the addresses of neo-Nazi organizations in
various countries. Police who searched the student’s home found a stock of
these pamphlets as well as T-shirts bearing swastikas.
22 October 1998, the authorities in Katowice arrested a neo-Nazi suspected of
being the principal perpetrator of physical attacks on black students from the
United States, who was brought before the local court. Another suspected
perpetrator was brought before the juvenile court and others were under police
surveillance. The prosecutor charged all those who took part in the attack with
24 November 1998 a local court in Zywiec (southern Poland) sentenced four
neo-Nazis who attacked a Rom family in their own apartment several months
earlier, verbally assaulting and beating up the family members, including an
eight-year-old girl. The main instigator of the attack was sentenced to 10
months in prison, suspended for 4 years. Other participants were to be subjected
to compulsory surveillance.
8 December 1998, in Wroclaw, the trial of the satirical monthly magazine Dobry humor (Good Humor)
opened. The case was brought by Samuel Fosso, an African student from Cameroon,
who felt insulted by jokes published in Dobry
humor that he deemed to be racist.
On 3 November 2000, the local court
rejected the case
against the magazine, saying that the jokes were certainly inappropriate, but
not racist. The court’s ruling held that objective criteria—rather than the
subjective opinion of Samuel Fosso—should be used to determine whether or not
there is personal offence; it also held, rather contradictorily, that the
material about Africans published in Dobry
humor fully justified objective criticism.
In January 2001 the appeal court in Wroclaw rejected Fosso’s appeal
against the decision.
In January 2001 the appeal court in Wroclaw rejected Fosso’s appeal against the decision.
trial involving Samuel Fosso took also place in Wroclaw after Fosso sued a man
who beat him up at the Wroclaw railway station, because he was black, in October
1998. On 3 March 1999 the trial ended with the attacker being sentenced to one
year in prison, suspended for three years, and a fine of 600 zloties (c.
March 1999 prosecutors in Oswiecim charged Kazimierz
Switon, a radical Catholic leader, with inciting hatred against Jews and
Germans in statements he made to a gathering of hundreds of his followers
defending the crosses outside Auschwitz.
Switon was charged after local residents complained about statements he had made
both verbally and in leaflets distributed at the gravel pit site. Those leaflets
stated that ‘the time has come for us Poles to wage merciless war on
Jewish-Communist-Masonry, the greatest enemies of the Polish state’, and
described Israel and Germany as ‘satanic-pagan forces aiming at the
extermination of the Polish nation’; they also 'revealed', purportedly from
classified government documents, the 'real' Jewish names of leading Polish
politicians, including Lech Walesa and President Kwasniewski. At the end of the trial in January 2000,
the Oswiecim court fined Switon 400 zloties (c. US$98) and sentenced him to six
months’ imprisonment, suspended for two years. Prosecutors had asked for a
1,500-zloty fine (US$367) and a year in prison, suspended for three years. Switon
accused the court of being in the hands of a Jewish-Communist-Masonic cabal, and
launched an appeal. In June 2000, a
provincial court in Bielsko Biala (southern Poland) heard the appeal and reduced
the sentence to a fine of 1,200 zloties (US$300) and one month's imprisonment. The court
subsequently waived the sentence on the grounds that Switon had already spent one month in jail in June 1999 on
other charges which were later dropped (i.e. illegal possession of explosive
devices). In December 2000, the local court in Katowice acquitted Switon of new
charges of inciting hatred in his leaflets, saying he had not offended Jews, but
had only presented his views.
19 May 1999, in Tarnow, a local court sentenced a twenty-three-year-old
far-right skinhead to one year in prison for a racially motivated physical
assault on Keith Hughes, an African-American basketball player.
7 June 1999 the regional court in Katowice sentenced a far-right skinhead to
five years’ imprisonment for severely burning a thirteen-year-old girl in a
racist attack against a Rom family in Bytom in September 1998. In addition to
needing medical treatment for several days after the attack, the girl has
suffered from severe post-traumatic stress..
14 June 1999, in Czestochowa, the local prosecutors charged eight neo-Nazis from
Warsaw with a racially motivated physical assault on a citizen of Senegal.
13 September 1999, in Nowy Targ (southern Poland), a twenty-year-old border
patrol soldier and a twenty-year-old unemployed man were tried on charges of
attacking and severely beating up (together with other unidentified persons)
three Rom men. The incident took place in Ochotnica Dolna on Christmas Day in
1998, when a group of men arms with chains verbally abused (with racist insults)
and physically attacked the three Roma at a bus stop. One of the victims
suffered two broken ribs.
October 1999, prosecutors in Slupsk (northern Poland) charged Leszek Bocian, a
regional chairman of the board of Solidarnosc ’80 trade union, with inciting
national and ethnic hatred. The accusation related to a pamphlet displayed by
the union that included anti-German and anti-Jewish material. The local court in
Slupsk found Bocian guilty, but waived sentencing on the grounds that his crime
was a ‘minor public annoyance’.
On 29 February 2000, the local prosecutors in Warsaw charged Krzysztof J. with the racially motivated physical assault and with the public offence of his neighbour, a citizen of Senegal, Diene Thiao.
In April 2000, the state prosecutor in Warsaw rejected a request from the ombudsman's office to investigate the activities of Leszek Bubel for violation of articles of the criminal code prohibiting the offence through public speech of a religious group. After some negotiation an investigation was launched, although its progress has been minimal.
9 May 2000, in Kielce, Andrzej N. (27) was charged with the publicly offending
the Jewish people, as a result of his having sent antisemitic letters to the
Internet radio station Shalom. The letters, in which he praised Hitler and
Eichmann, were signed ‘Prospective Auschwitz Commander’. In October 2000 he
was sentenced to 10 months in prison, suspended for 3 years.
June 2000, prosecutors in Warsaw charged Grzegorz B. with offending the Jewish
people by publishing antisemitic jokes on his Internet website. The accused
subsequently apologized to the Jewish people on his website. The case was to be
heard by the local court in Rzeszow.
July 2000, a court in Pulawy sentenced Marcin H. to one year in prison
(suspended) and 500 zloties (c. US$116) for propagating fascism and inciting
national hatred. The charges resulted from Marcin H. advertising the
national-socialist magazine Zryw on
magazine (August 2000), two Polish neo-fascists were tried in the town of
Olsztyn (northern Poland) on charges of the propagation of fascism. They were
accused of organizing an illegal meeting in a nearby village in the spring of
2000, which was attended by over 200 neo-fascists who woke up the local
residents with shouts of ‘Sieg Heil’. One of the accused was the landlord of
the pub where the meeting took place; he claimed that the event was a ‘private
September 2000 the local court in Szczecin presided over the trial of five local
neo-Nazis accused of publicly supporting fascism. They had participated in a
fascist demonstration in 1997, and had been seen chanting antisemitic and
by prominent figures
29 September 1998 the Agreement of Veterans and Freedom Fighters from Krakow issued a statement condemning the ‘passivity of Polish state
authorities’ in the conflict over the crosses
at the Auschwitz gravel pit. They characterized the erection of the crosses
as a ‘political and religious provocation that causes public anxiety’. The
Agreement, composed of some twenty different organizations, including the
Swiatowy Związek Zolnierzy Armii Krajowej (World
Union of Home Army Soldiers), were supporting the
stand taken a day before by a group of Krakow intellectuals—including the two
Nobel laureates Czeslaw Milosz and Wislawa Szymborska—who called on the Prime
Minister Jerzy Buzek to ‘put a stop to the provocations and rows in
8 November 1998 Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek attended the unveiling of a memorial
to the victims of Kristallnacht in Wroclaw. In 1938 the Nazis murdered several
dozen Jews in Wroclaw—then the German city of Breslau—and burned Jewish
homes, shops and religious buildings. The memorial to the victims was erected at
the spot where one of the largest synagogues in Germany at the time stood until
it was burned down on 9 November 1938. The ceremony took place in Wroclaw’s
only synagogue that survived the war, still in the process of being renovated.
Wroclaw Metropolitan Archbishop addressed the congregation in the synagogue,
referring to ‘the phoenix rising from the ashes’, a sentiment echoed by
Prime Minister Buzek in his speech. Buzek also celebrated the contribution of
Polish Jews to the nation’s history over several centuries. In a short
interview broadcast on Polish television, Buzek said: ‘Traditions of
co-existence between the majority and the minorities, traditions that Poland was
known and famous for several centuries ago, these traditions are alive in Poland
March 1999 Malgorzata Dzieduszycka replaced Krzysztof Sliwinski as the
ambassador to the Jewish diaspora, a post created in 1995 by Foreign Minister
Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, himself a Polish survivor of the Holocaust and an active
participant in Polish-Jewish dialogue, in a bid to improve Polish-Jewish
relations. The choice of Dzieduszycka, a former theatre critic and Polish consul
in Canada, was received positively by the Jewish leaders in Poland.
Prominent among Polish Catholics who have constructively contributed to Polish–Jewish relations is the Jesuit priest, Fr Stanislaw Musial. In an interview with the Jewish Telegraph Agency (March 1999), Musial said: ‘We [Catholics] were in silence during the Shoah. Maybe Pope Pius XII was a good man, but he did not lead as a shepherd, or help form a consciousness of “Thou shall not kill.” And for this reason, we should not falsify the historical perspective as if we were always there. We were not, so now we have no right to put up these crosses . . . But for Jews, Auschwitz is the symbol. In the future, they must have the biggest say of what happens there, because it was predominantly Jewish blood that was lost there.’ Fr Musial served as a secretary of the Komisja Episkopatu Polski ds. Dialogu z Judaizmem (Commission of the Polish Episcopate for Dialogue with Judaism) from 1986 to 1994, and is an editor of the Krakow-based liberal Catholic weekly Tygodnik Powszechny.
April 1999 the fifty-sixth anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was
commemorated. An official ceremony took place at the monument to the Ghetto
fighters in Warsaw. Polish and Jewish officials laid wreaths and lit
menorah-shaped torches. Among those present were the speakers of both houses of
parliament as well as representatives of the president and prime minister.
his two-week visit to Poland in June 1999, Pope John Paul II called for greater
Christian understanding of the suffering of the Jews during the Holocaust. On 11
June the Pope prayed with members of the Jewish community at the site of the
former Warsaw ghetto’s Umschlagplatz. The
pope made an appeal to the radical Polish Catholics, saying that he prayed that
the Jews would ‘find respect and love from all those who have not yet
understood the depth of their suffering’.
March 2000 the Synod of Poland’s Lutheran Church issued the ‘Millennium
Declaration’, in which it asked forgiveness of the Jewish people for the
antisemitic statements of its founder Martin Luther. A part of the Declaration
read: ‘we confess our sins and ask forgiveness’.
May 2000 President Aleksander Kwasniewski took part in the March of the Living
in Auschwitz to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust. In his speech to the
marchers Kwasniewski said: ‘We are here together to make sure that no one,
neither people nor nations, is ever again threatened with annihilation.’
May 2000 in Warsaw, the leader of Poland’s Catholic Church, primate Jozef
Glemp, apologized for antisemitism among the Catholic clergy. Glemp’s apology
followed the Pope’s campaign for reconciliation with the Jews and admitting
responsibility for the Church’s historical errors.
26 August 2000 the Conference of Bishops of Poland’s Roman Catholic Church
issued a letter calling the year 2000 a ‘time of reconciliation and grace’.
The letter read: ‘We ask forgiveness for those among us who show disdain for
people of other denominations or tolerate antisemitism . . . antisemitism, just
like anti-Christian prejudice is a sin . . . We should also efficiently overcome
all signs of anti-Judaism, which stem from wrong interpretations of the
Church’s teaching, and of antisemitism, which is hatred stemming from
nationalist or racial ideas that still exist among Christians.’ The bishops
admitted that, while making noble efforts to save Jews during the Holocaust, the
Poles had also showed indifference or enmity. The letter was read throughout the
country during Sunday mass.
21 September 2001 President Aleksander Kwasniewski met with representatives of
Muzulmanski Zwiazek Wyznaniowy (Muslim Religious Union) in Poland. The Union’s
leader, Stefan Korycki, re-assured Polish Muslims that they would not suffer from
prejudice after the terrorist attacks on the United States. The same month, Kwasniewski
visited a mosque of the Polish Tartar community.
September 1999 a Jewish high school was opened in Warsaw for the first time
since the Holocaust.
January 2000 Poland’s representatives at the Holocaust Education conference in
Stockholm signed a declaration promising to develop an educational programme
about the Holocaust for Polish schools. In April 2000, the Ministry of Education
financed a proposal submitted by Robert Szuchta, a high-school history teacher
in Warsaw, and Piotr Trojanski of the Warsaw Academy of Education. The first
specialized textbook on Jewish history and the Holocaust, written by these two
authors, will be published in the spring of 2002.
the early 1990s, the Wyspianski High School in Warsaw has offered a special
programme that integrates themes of Jewish history, culture and literature into
the curricula of regular subjects, and also includes Hebrew classes (2 hours per
week). There were more than 100 students taking part in this programme in 2001.
The programme also includes trips to Jewish-related sites in Poland and abroad,
and other extra-curricular events, such as performances of Hebrew and Yiddish
songs, dramatic works by classical Yiddish writers, as well as symposia on
tolerance, Jewish-Christian and Polish-Jewish relations and so on. The programme
is supported by the Zydowski
Instytut Historyczny (Jewish Historical Institute) in Warsaw.
demonstrations against racism and xenophobia
9 November 1999, the International Day against Fascism and Antisemitism, the
sixty-first anniversary of Kristallnacht was commemorated in several Polish
cities. In Wroclaw and Opole flowers were laid at monuments at the sites were
synagogues were destroyed during Kristallnacht in 1938. Street demonstrations
took place in Lublin and Rezszow. The Warsaw radio station Radio Stacja
broadcast a special programme. Fascist-graffiti were removed, and anti-fascist
posters and leaflets were distributed in Lomza, Tomaszow, Legnica, Dzierzoniow
and Konin. In Krakow and Warsaw historical lectures were given. Similar
demonstrations and marches took place in 2000 and 2001.
April 2001, during the tenth annual March of the Living at Auschwitz-Birkenau,
young Poles and young Jews from the United States, Israel, Canada and Europe
took part in the march as a single group for the first time.
of best practice
Never Again Association has been, since 1996, one of the most
active groups working to combat racial and national hatred. Its activity as a
pressure group focuses on publishing, providing the mainstream media with
information on far-right movements and incidents of racism and xenophobia,
educational activities, and mobilizing volunteers and public figures in social,
cultural and political spheres. Among the recent projects of the Never Again
Association are: the publication of Never
Again magazine (12 issues published as of winter 2000/1); the ‘Muzyka
przeciwko rasizmowi’ (Music against Racism) campaign involving various
musicians, the production of two CDs of music by well-known Polish rock groups,
and a number of concerts all over Poland; the ‘Wykopmy rasizm ze stadionow’
(Let’s Kick Racism Out of Football) campaign aimed at football fans, players,
coaches, activists and journalists and including the promotion of anti-racist
attitudes and the countering of neo-Nazi ideology (symbols, slogans); the
maintenance of archives documenting racist incidents in Poland (published in Never Again); and the production of educational film for use in
schools and universities. The Never Again Association works with national
minority organizations in Poland and similar institutions abroad, churches,
disabled people, veterans’ associations, artists and public organizations,
and, at the local level, it works closely with the informal GAN movement (Grupa
Anty-Nazistowska, Anti-Nazi Group).
1998, 17 January has been marked in Poland as the Day of Judaism by the Polish
episcopate of the Catholic Church as a means of fostering interfaith dialogue
and education. On that day many sermons call for respect for the Jewish people
as well as Catholic-Jewish co-operation. In 1999, the leaders of Poland’s
Jewish community attended Catholic mass in Wroclaw and members of the Roman
Catholic attended Jewish services. Also one million postcards bearing a photo of
Pope John Paul II together with Rome’s Chief Rabbi were distributed in
Catholic parishes throughout the country. In 2000 scholarly conferences also
took place in major cities.
March 2000 the local Gazeta Wyborcza
office in Lodz initiated ‘Colourful Tolerance’, a campaign that appealed to
Lodz residents collectively to paint over racist and antisemitic graffiti in the
streets of this city. The action took place in reaction to an open letter issued
by an Israel-based group of Holocaust survivors, the Association of the Former
Lodz Residents, in which its chairman Abraham Zelig wrote: ‘. . . swastikas
and Nazi symbols that appear on the walls in the city constitute a horrible
desecration of the memory of Hitler’s victims . . . Don’t you feel that a
bunch of conscience-less and mindless people spit in your faces when they praise
the Nazi occupiers of Lodz? Why don’t you protest against it?’ On 21 March,
the International Day against Racism and the first day of spring (usually a
classes-free day for schoolchildren and high-school students) thousands of
volunteers, including youth from more than thirty schools, foreigners living in
Lodz, disabled students, anarchists, members of the Catholic Youth Association,
Polish Union of Jewish Students as well as activists from the Freedom Union
(UW), cleaned up city walls that had been defaced by racist, antisemitic and
neo-fascist graffiti, often intertwined with the symbols of football teams.
the early 1990s television producers Waldemar Janda and Krzysztof Krzyzanowski
have been involved in making the series U siebie (At Home), regularly
broadcast by Polish public television. The name of the series refers to the
notion that minority groups in Poland (or in any nation) are at home, in their
own place. In the late 1990s Krzyzanowski and Janda founded the International
Ethnic Television Festival U Siebie (At Home) in Krakow, which includes the
showing of numerous documentary films, reportages and television programmes from
various countries world-wide. In 1999 more than 90 pieces from 27 countries were
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© Institute for Jewish Policy Research 2002