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February 18, 2018 8:24 pm

Polish Jews Reel From Wave of Antisemitism Following Furor Over Country’s New Holocaust Law

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

The Jewish cemetery in Lodz, Poland on May 11, 2017. Photo: Isaac Harari/FLASH90.

Poland’s Jews are reeling from a wave of antisemitism as a furious controversy intensifies over Poland’s role in the murder of three million Polish Jews during the Holocaust.

The head of Warsaw’s Jewish community Anna Chipczynska said her constituents are “psychologically shaken” by the eruption of hatred that began with the government’s approval of a bill criminalizing statements about Polish complicity in the Holocaust.

The law sparked outrage among Israelis from across the political spectrum. The Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki doubled down on Saturday, saying there were “Jewish perpetrators” of the Holocaust as well as Poles, prompting renewed anger from Israeli officials.

Polish television commentators, government officials, and even a prominent Catholic priest have since been caught making antisemitic statements.

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These public pronouncements have occurred in tandem with direct antisemitic incidents such as threatening phone calls and emails to the Jewish community, urination in front of a historic synagogue, and racist graffiti.

An Associated Press report on Saturday detailed a growing sense of despair among Polish Jews. Matylda Jonas-Kowalik, a young student of Jewish studies, said, “This is my home. I have never lived anywhere else and wanted this to keep being my home. But this makes me very anxious. I don’t know what to expect.”

Hanna, who asked that her last name be concealed, expressed her new understanding of her mother’s fear of antisemitism. “I always thought she was crazy,” she said. “Now I see that maybe my mom isn’t crazy. Maybe this is the circle of life and history is repeating.”

There has also been a noticeable rise in inquiries about aliyah in Poland, something community member Mikolaj Grynberg attributes directly to the wave of antisemitism currently underway.

“Each time you have an antisemitic wave, there are Jewish people who leave,” he said. “It’s not just a whim: It’s about their fear. Jewish people know what can come after.”

The Polish prime minister’s statement regarding “Jewish perpetrators” was roundly condemned by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said, “The Polish Prime Minister’s remarks here in Munich are outrageous. There is a problem here of an inability to understand history and a lack of sensitivity to the tragedy of our people. I intend to speak with him forthwith.”

The American Jewish Committee’s Berlin Director Deidre Berger, who was present when the Polish prime minister made his comments, called them “an unwelcome sign that Polish leaders have yet to understand the tremendous concerns unleashed by the new Polish law criminalizing statements that implicate Polish collaborators in the Holocaust.”

“Poland’s suffering at the hands of the Nazi regime was enormous, its bravery in resistance is unquestionable. There were also Poles who risked their lives to save Jewish neighbors. Still, it is undeniable that Jews before, during, and after WWII died due to collaboration and antisemitism,” said Berger. “Accusing Jews themselves of allegedly being perpetrators in the Holocaust was a stunning reversal of responsibility for the Holocaust, turning victims into perpetrators.”

Outrage against developments in Poland is still intense in Israel. The Hebrew language news website Mako reported on Sunday that the Polish embassy in Tel Aviv was defaced with swastikas and graffiti comparing Poles to Nazis.

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