Poland marks 60th anniversary of Kielce massacre, Europe's last pogrom

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July 4, 2006 14:43

"As the president of Poland, I want to say it loud and clear: what happened in Kielce 60 years ago was a crime."

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Poland's President Lech Kaczynski denounced anti-Semitism on the 60th anniversary of a pogrom in the town of Kielce that left 42 people dead, saying democratic Poland had "no room for racism and anti-Semitism." But he added in prepared remarks Tuesday that Poles should not be tarred as anti-Jewish, saying he rejected "the stereotype of the Polish anti-Semite." Kaczynski did not attend the ceremonies, with his office saying he was ill. An aide read out his sharply worded remarks, which come amid European Union criticism of Poland for an alleged rise in intolerance under the new, conservative government. "As the president of Poland, I want to say it loud and clear: what happened in Kielce 60 years ago was a crime," he said. "This is a great shame and tragedy for the Poles and the Jews, so few of whom survived Hitler's Holocaust." In Kielce, townspeople and security officers - spurred by a false rumor that Jews living at 7 Planty Street had kidnapped a Christian boy - attacked Jewish Holocaust survivors living in the building on July 4, 1946. They killed 42 people, almost all Jews, over several hours, and about 30 more were also killed in a violent frenzy that spread across the area. The violence led set off a mass emigration of many of Poland's estimated 250,000 Jewish Holocaust survivors - what was left of the prewar Jewish population of 3.5 million. "The pogrom has special significance because of what happened, and because of when it happened," said Warren Miller, chairman of the United States Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad, a government group that raised funds for a new memorial unveiled at the ceremony. "A year after the Holocaust ended, when the few survivors returned to their homes, they hoped to find their loved ones and rebuild their lives," Miller said. "Instead, they were confronted by vicious mobs." Memory of the killings still burden relations between Jews and Poles. Many non-Jewish Poles feel their entire country has been tarnished unfairly as anti-Semitic in the eyes of the world because of incidents like Kielce, which they describe as deplorable random acts and not the result of any national hatred for Jews. Kaczynski said Poland today puts a high priority on good relations with Jews and Israel. "I deplore, however, that in Poland as well as abroad, there still appear opinions and remarks, whose authors intend to strengthen the stereotype of the Polish anti-Semite," Kaczynski said. "As the president of Poland I wish to repeat that in free, democratic and law-abiding Poland there is no room for racism and anti-Semitism. They evoke revulsion." Poland's chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, praised Kaczynski's remarks, saying, "He said exactly what he needed to say, that there is no place in Poland for anti-Semitism." Schudrich, the Israeli ambassador, a representative from the US Embassy and other dignitaries gathered as a new, abstract monument was unveiled near the site of the killings. The white concrete monument forms the number 7 - a reminder the killings took place at 7 Planty Street and in the seventh month of the year - "but on its side to signify the tragedy of the pogrom," said the artist, Jack Sal, a 52-year-old New Yorker. Trailed by hundreds of people, the dignitaries then laid wreaths at 7 Platny Street _ an off-white stucco house with iron-railed balconies along a tranquil street lined by trees and a stream. Later, Schudrich prayed for the victims and read out their names in Hebrew at a plaque remembering the victims in Kielce's Jewish cemetery.


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