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July 21, 2016 12:30 pm

Jewish Leader Slams Polish Officials for Casting Doubt on Polish, Nazi Murder of Jews in WWII

avatar by Lea Speyer

WJC President Ronald S. Lauder. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

WJC President Ronald S. Lauder. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The head of a major international Jewish organization condemned officials in Poland Wednesday for questioning Polish and Nazi involvement in the murder of Jews during the Second World War.

World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder said in a statement that recent comments to this effect by Polish Education Minister Anna Zalewska and Jedwabne Mayor Michael Chajewski are a “slap in the face” to Holocaust victims.

Last week, Zalewska cast doubt on the involvement of Poles in two pogroms in the 1940s — the 1941 Jedwabne massacre, in which Poles burned alive more than 300 Jews in a barn, and the 1946 Kielce massacre, in which 42 people died. The anniversaries of both pogroms were commemorated earlier this month.

During an interview with public broadcaster TVN, when asked whether the massacres should be taught in schools, Zalewska answered, “Jedwabne is a historical fact that has led to many misunderstandings and very biased opinions,” adding that the perpetrators of the Kielce massacre were antisemites, “but not quite Polish.”

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Chajewski, for his part, voiced approval for the exhumation of hundreds of Jewish bodies from a local mass grave to examine whether Nazi soldiers were indeed the murderers. “You need to determine how many people were killed and by whom to finally dispel doubt,” he told a Polish newspaper last week.

According to Lauder, the comments by the minister and mayor undermine the efforts of Polish scholars, “who have spent more than 25 years unearthing evidence of horrifying acts of violence against Jews committed by Poles.”

“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 antisemitism,’” he said.

Lauder called it “disturbing” that senior Polish officials, who are part of a country that has made tremendous advancements in Holocaust education and scholarship, are “lurching backward to the days of obfuscation and misinformation.”

“Ever since the collapse of Communism, elements of Polish society have expressed tremendous courage and dignity in confronting terrible blots on Polish history,” he said. “In so doing, they have earned our admiration and set a valuable example to be emulated by neighboring countries that have failed to come to grips with their own history.”

Lauder called on Zalewska and Chajewski to issue immediate apologies and retract their remarks.

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