Polish Chief Rabbi ‘Sad’ Over Trump Decision to Not Visit Ghetto Memorial During Warsaw Trip
Poland’s chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, expressed “sadness” on Thursday over President Donald Trump’s decision not to visit the memorial to the Jewish resistance fighters of the April 1943 Warsaw Ghetto uprising during his current trip to the Polish capital.
The president chose the monument commemorating the generalized 1944 uprising against the Nazis in the city to deliver a major speech on foreign affairs, in which he scolded Russia for “destabilizing” Ukraine and supporting such “hostile regimes” as Syria and Iran.
But Schudrich and other Polish Jewish leaders made clear their disappointment with Trump for not visiting the ghetto memorial — which pays tribute to one of the most heroic episodes of Jewish resistance during the Holocaust. The uprising began on April 19, 1943, as the Nazi occupiers entered the ghetto with the goal of deporting the remaining inhabitants to concentration and death camps. Hundreds of poorly armed fighters from the Jewish Fighting Organization (ZOB) inflicted heavy casualties on the SS and the German army over the course of nearly a month.
In a statement issued on Wednesday, Schudrich, Anna Chipczynska, the president of the Jewish Community of Warsaw, and Leslaw Piszewski, president of the Union of Jewish Communities of Poland, accused Trump of a “slight” in not stopping by the memorial.
But on Thursday, Schudrich praised the president’s daughter and adviser, Ivanka Trump, for accompanying him to the memorial, where he recited the Kaddish memorial prayer. Her presence was “very, very important” Schudrich said, “not only because she’s a Jew, because her grandparents-in-law are survivors of the Holocaust, but also as a human being it’s important.”
“But it’s sad because her father President Trump is the first US president in 25 years not to visit the Warsaw Ghetto Heroes Monument,” Schudrich added.
Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, visited the ghetto memorial in May 2011, where he spoke with survivors about the “nightmare” of the Holocaust. During their visit to Poland in 2003, President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush paid tribute to the victims of the Holocaust at the site of the Auschwitz concentration camp.
Schudrich’s disappointment with Trump was not universally shared. “I respectfully disagree with his criticism of President Trump’s visit to Warsaw,” Shmuley Boteach — a New York-based rabbi and prominent Jewish supporter of the president — said in a statement.
“While President Trump should also be attending the Warsaw Ghetto Memorial today, we should remember that gestures, while extremely important, do not replace grand action,” Boteach said. “When it comes to fighting genocide and standing with Israel, President Trump has been admirable and deserves our thanks.”
The controversy over Trump’s decision follows an article earlier this week in an anti-fascist publication on “the alleged influence of a well-known far right activist” upon the president’s agenda in Poland.
“On 3 July, Polish state television reported in its main news broadcast that Trump’s speech has been drawn up in consultation with Polish-American historian Marek J. Chodakiewicz,” wrote Rafal Pankowski — Poland’s leading academic authority on the far right and the author of several scholarly articles on anti-Zionism and antisemitism in post-war Poland.
“The report raised eyebrows because of Chodakiewicz’s long record of far right links,” Pankowski wrote. “He is mostly known as a denier of Polish responsibility for acts of antisemitism, including the infamous Jedwabne pogrom of 1941.”
Chodakiewicz, who teaches at the Washington, DC-based Institute of World Politics, has been widely quoted across the Polish media on Trump’s visit.