Polish chief rabbi: Young Jews are questioning their place in Poland

Aftermath of the ‘death camps law’ leaves Polish Jews uneasy

February 18, 2018 21:37
3 minute read.
People wear Israeli flags around their shoulders inside Birkenau (Auschwitz II).

People wear Israeli flags around their shoulders as they walk on the railroad tracks inside the former Nazi death camp of Birkenau (Auschwitz II) in Oswiecim-Brzezinka, southern Poland April 8, 2013.. (photo credit: REUTERS/JAKUB OCIEPA/AGENCJA GAZETA)

Several young Jews are questioning their future in Poland on the heels of the “death camps law,” Polish Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.

There have been various reports of an uptick of antisemitic discourse in recent weeks, as well at least a couple of antisemitic incidents in Poland.

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“In the past couple of weeks, people have felt more at ease to say publicly what they were afraid to say in [the] last 25 to 27 years,” Schudrich said. “But a bigger problem, as a result of that, is that there are Jews who are beginning to question whether or not they have a place in Poland – people whose families have lived here for hundreds of years are asking ‘is this really our place?’” “It’s not that we’re afraid somebody is going to attack us, we’re not afraid physically,” Schudrich explained.

“It’s if we feel this can be our home.”

“Mainly young people are talking among themselves and saying ‘do I want to live in a country that people say such things?’ Maybe I want to move?” he said.

Some members of the community have approached the chief rabbi soliciting his advice.

“My advice is that every person has to make their own decision. But I think it’s time to fight, not to leave,” he declared.

How can they fight? “By challenging the narrative that’s being put forward by some elements of the government,” Schudrich said. “If people start getting arrested then we have to redefine and revisit the question – I’m not willing to live in a country where I can’t say what I believe.”

“We’re in the 21st century. Every human being has the right to live in a country where they are free to say what they believe. I don’t believe anyone will be arrested, but we’ll see,” he added.

Schudrich doesn’t see Jews fleeing the country “right now” but said that the fact that Jewish people are questioning whether Poland can be their home is something he has not heard in the past 27 years.

Schudrich noted, however, that there are plenty of Polish politicians and citizens who oppose the government’s recent steps on the matter.

On Saturday night, for instance, a woman on the street approached him and said: “Don’t pay attention to what the government is doing.”

With regard to the antisemitic incidents that have occurred recently, Schudrich said that while any incident is one too many, “We must not lose perspective.”

In his eyes, the more troubling issue is the statements uttered by Polish officials in recent days.

“The much bigger problem than these unfortunate incidents is that an MP can say Germans killed the Jews in Jedwabne, not the Poles,” he opined. He also flagged “unacceptable” comments by Andrzej Zybertowicz, an adviser to President Andrzej Duda who last week accused Jews of “passivity” in the Holocaust as well as of complicity in Nazi crimes and said that “Israel is fighting to keep the monopoly on the Holocaust.”

In response to Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s remarks on Saturday, Schudrich was almost speechless.

Speaking at the Munich Security Conference, Morawiecki said that there were Polish perpetrators, “as there were Jewish perpetrators, as there were Russian perpetrators, as there were Ukrainian perpetrators – not only German perpetrators.”

Schudrich said that “what the prime minister said is not only against Jews but also against Poles.”

“How do you put in one sentence Polish, German and Jewish perpetrators?” He questioned.

To talk of “Jewish perpetrators,” he said, “was outrageous.”

“But what he said is also unacceptable for Poles. The prime minister, in the statement in Munich yesterday, basically went against the very law his party just passed, by saying Polish perpetrators in the same sentence as German perpetrators without distinguishing that there is some difference.”

In Schudrich’s eyes, the Polish law has backfired. “I never remembered so many people talking about Polish collaborators.”

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