New Polish president denies countrymen’s Holocaust atrocities against Jews

In a change of attitude from that of his predecessor, Poland’s new right-wing president, Andrzej Duda, denies Polish acts of barbarism against Jews during the Holocaust.

By: Lauren Calin, World Israel News
Poland Anti-Semitism

Anti-Semitic graffiti on a monument to the Jedwabne pogrom says, “They were flammable.” (AP/Michal Kosc)

Newly elected Polish President Andrzej Duda criticized his predecessor, Bronislaw Komorowski, for acknowledging atrocities committed by Poles against Jews during the Holocaust during a recent debate. The Polish president is primarily a figurehead, but Duda’s victory may foreshadow greater success for his right-wing Law and Justice Party in this year’s legislative elections.

Komorowski conceded defeat Sunday after exit polls showed Duda was winning by six percent – 53-to-47 –  in the runoff election. The results mark the end of nearly a decade of Civic Platform Party rule. It is not yet clear what the election will mean for the tiny Jewish community in Poland or for bilateral relations between Poland and Israel.

In a debate last week, Komorowski reiterated his position that Polish citizens were complicit in the murder of Polish Jews during the Holocaust. “The nation of victims [Poland under German occupation] was also the nation of perpetrators,” he said, according to a translation by AFP.

Duda castigated the then-president for his remarks, calling them an “attempt to destroy Poland’s good name.”

The Law and Justice Party has a checkered past with regard to the Jews. Lawmaker Dorota Arciszewska-Mielewczyk, for instance, reacted to a study of Polish anti-Semitism presented to Parliament in early 2014 by quipping that Jews in Poland seemed to be represented by the Knesset rather than by Polish parliamentarians. She later said that her comments were taken out of context, explaining that she had called on the Knesset to stop references to “Polish concentration camps” and that a Jewish group that was present had a “negative and allergic reaction” to her remarks. Many Poles, mostly from the right, resent labeling the Nazi-run death camps under German occupation as Polish.

Poland's President visits a synagogue

Lech Kaczynski on the first visit by a Polish president to a synagogue in 2008. (AP/Czarek Sokolowski)

On the other hand, in response to allegations of party anti-Semitism in 2009, Member of European Parliament Adam Bielan wrote to the Guardian, “Law and Justice has a record on fighting anti-Semitism [that] any party in Europe would envy. In December last year its most senior figure, President of Poland Lech Kaczynski, became the first Polish head of state ever to attend a Jewish service in a synagogue in Poland. As the Israeli paper Ha’aretz writes: ‘Mr Kaczynski has long been a friend to the Jewish community.’”

Anti-Semitism has a tenacious hold in Poland, despite the decimation of the Jewish community from over 3.2 million before the Holocaust to just 10,000 today. The aforementioned study found that 65% of Poles believe in a Jewish conspiracy to control international banking and the media, while 23% hold more traditional anti-Semitic assumptions, including the belief that the Jews killed Jesus and that they use Christian blood in religious rituals. Anti-Semitic feelings are strongest in the eastern part of the country, which held the largest Jewish populations before the war.