Peres praises 'Israel's best friend in Europe'

President gives a message of Polish-Jewish reconciliation and the peace that Israel seeks for itself and the world.

Peres 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Peres 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Anyone who expected a political dissertation from President Shimon Peres when he addressed the Polish Senate on Thursday, before returning to Israel, was disappointed. His was a message of Polish-Jewish reconciliation and the peace that Israel seeks for itself and the world. A positive attitude to Jews and the State of Israel had developed in Poland's new democracy, and today the country was Israel's best friend in Europe, Peres said. The Iranian nuclear threat, the terrorism of Hamas, the economic opportunities of "Peace Valley" and other subjects that Peres usually discusses did not surface. "I came from the new Israel to the new, unoccupied and democratic Poland - from Israel, which is as old as the Ten Commandments and as new as the Internet," Peres said at the conclusion of his four-day state visit. This was his first visit to Poland as president of the State of Israel, whose founders were largely born on Polish soil, he said. Peres - who was also born in Poland - spoke more as a Jew than as an Israeli. In Poland, he told The Jerusalem Post, he was more aware than anywhere else of the devastating tragedy that had befallen the Jewish people. "It's a very deep emotional experience," he said. In his address to the Senate, Peres reviewed almost a millennium of Jewish life in Poland and recalled the names of some of Poland's native sons who had gained prominence not only in Israel but in the world. Among them were Israel's first prime minister David Ben-Gurion, prime minister and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Menachem Begin (who was a law graduate of Warsaw University), and writers such as national poet Haim Nachman Bialik and Nobel literature laureate S.Y. Agnon. Poland had the world's largest concentration of Jews, with close to 3.5 million on the eve of World War II, Peres said, and it was there that the Jewish press came into being. "In Poland they spoke Yiddish, studied in Hebrew and prayed to be 'next year in Jerusalem,'" Peres recalled. Jewish life disappeared almost without a trace after WWII and the subsequent expulsion by the Communists. But the legacy of Jewish Poland continued to resonate in the Jewish people, he said. "Tradition is something which cannot be killed," he said. "It can not be erased and it must not be erased. It will continue to pulsate till the end of days." Though the whole of Europe was affected by the Holocaust," Peres said, the greatest tragedy of the Holocaust took place in Poland, which was why Jewish memory and Jewish pain are directed at Poland even though it was the Germans - who also inflicted great suffering on Poles - who were to blame. The Warsaw Ghetto uprising, he said, was the pinnacle of heroism in the symbiotic history of the Poles and Jews. Mordechai Anilevich, Zivia Lubetkin Antek Zuckerman, Marek Edelman, Simha Rotem (codename 'Kazik'), Pawel Frankel and other resistance leaders had become the all-time symbols of heroism both for Jews and for Poles, Peres said. There was no precedent for an uprising of this kind of a few individuals against a vast army, he said. Most of the Zionist political movements were founded in Poland, said Peres. In the first Knesset that was elected during the War of Independence, 61 of 120 members were of Polish origin, and in the first interim government headed by Ben-Gurion, six of 13 ministers were of Polish birth. "I have come to you in the name of the living and the dead and those yet to be born, to recite kadish and to sing Hatikva," Peres said. Reflecting on the parting from his grandfather, Rabbi Tzvi Meltzer, when his family left Poland for the Land of Israel in 1934, not realizing that he would never again see those members of his family who stayed behind, Peres confessed that he was constantly haunted by question of what it means to be Jewish after the Holocaust and whether to believe that such atrocities could never happen again. Early Thursday morning at the Belweder Palace, Peres participated in the writing of the final letter in a Torah scroll that will be used in Warsaw's Chabad synagogue. "The Torah symbolizes our history and tells of the festival of freedom," he said, adding that he hoped that this Pessah would be one "of peace and quiet in our land, so that we can continue to serve Jews in the Diaspora and build up the State of Israel." Peres also reminded Israelis and Jews around the world not to forget Eldad Regev, Ehud Goldwasser and Gilad Schalit - the IDF soldiers abducted in the summer of 2006 - and their families, and to pray for their speedy liberation.