(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder demanded an apology from Polish officials Thursday, following recent statements casting doubt on Polish involvement in two pogroms in the 1940s .
Lauder described Education Minister Anna Zalewska and Jedwabne Mayor Michael Chajewski’s comments as a “slap in the face” to Holocaust victims, and accused them of undermining efforts of Polish scholars “who have spent more than 25 years unearthing evidence of horrifying acts of violence against Jews committed by Poles.”
Zalewska suggested in an interview on Polish television last week that the identities of the perpetrators of the 1946 Kielce massacre, in which 40 Jews were murdered, were unclear. “Let’s leave it to historians to sort out,” she said.
She also questioned Poles’ participation in the 1941 Jedwabne massacre, in which residents of the town rounded up hundreds of their Jewish neighbors and burned them to death in a barn, according to Poland’s own Institute of National Memory.
Following Zalewska’s remarks, Jedwabne Mayor Michael Chajewski added his voice to calls to exhume skeletons from the mass grave in Jedwabne to determine whether German soldiers, rather than Poles, had killed the victims.
Lauder urged the Polish government to insist that the two officials immediately issue clearly worded apologies and retract their remarks.
“Minister Zalewska and Mayor Chajewski would do well to heed the words of President Andrzej Duda who said earlier this month at the 70th anniversary of the Kielce pogrom that ‘In a free, sovereign and independent Poland there is no room for any form of prejudice. There is no room for racism, for xenophobia, for anti-Semitism,’” Lauder said.
“It is disturbing to think that senior government officials in Poland, a country that led the struggle against Communism in Central and Eastern Europe and that has done so much to advance the cause of Holocaust education and scholarship, now seem to be lurching backward to the days of obfuscation and misinformation,” he continued.
He also praised those Polish officials who had “expressed tremendous courage and dignity in confronting terrible blots on Polish history,” saying they set an example to neighboring countries who have “failed to come to grips with their own history.”
In 2011, then Polish president Bronislaw Komorowski asked for forgiveness at a ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the Jedwabne pogrom. Before he was elected, Duda attacked his predecessor for the apology and denied Polish participation in the Holocaust. Earlier this month, however, Duda did acknowledge that some Poles killed Jews during the Holocaust.JTA contributed to this report.