Polish President Lech Kaczynski is rather proud of the fact that he is the first head of state to visit Israel in the immediate aftermath of the war in Lebanon.
Prime Minister Tony Blair doesn't count, Kaczynski told an audience of mostly Polish expatriates at the Begin Heritage Center on Monday, "because he's not a head of state and he didn't come on an official visit."
Even when the war was at its height, said Kaczynski, who was at the Begin Center to open an exhibition entitled, "The Struggle for Liberty: Jewish Soldiers in the Polish Army," the dates September 10-13 remained marked in his calendar, "because we had to make a statement here."
Polish armed forces are in Iraq, he said, largely owing to Poland's alliance with Israel, "and will be in Lebanon for the same reason." He was pleased to open the exhibition, he said, because it would dispel stereotypes of Polish Jews still in the minds of Poles and Israelis.
Jews fought for Polish nationalism and independence since the Kosciuszko uprising of 1794, he said, and again in the uprisings of 1830 and 1863.
Speaking without hesitation and without notes, Kaczynski reviewed the history of Jewish participation in Poland's battles for independence, and said that a little known fact both in Poland and in Israel was that on September, 1, 1939, of the one million soldiers in the Polish Army, 10 percent were Jews.
Later, he said, of the Polish officers executed by the Soviets, again 10% were Jews.
Kaczynski also noted that many of the officers in Israel's 1948 War of Independence were native Polish speakers.
Kaczynski said he would like the exhibition to travel to Warsaw and other cities of Poland to show how throughout the years Jews played an important role in the Polish army.
Begin Heritage Center founder and director Harry Hurwitz remarked there could be no more appropriate place for the exhibition, since Begin had come to Palestine as a soldier in the Free Army of General Wladyslaw Anders.