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April 22, 2019 3:12 pm

Polish Catholic Church Leader Condemns Shocking Easter Ritual Involving Antisemitic ‘Judas’ Effigy

avatar by Ben Cohen

Children in the rural Polish town of Pruchnik beating an antisemitic effigy of “Judas” to mark the Easter holiday. Photo: Screenshot.

The leadership of the Catholic Church in Poland on Monday strongly condemned an Easter holiday ritual in the southern town of Pruchnik in which adults and children dragged an effigy through the streets of a stereotypical Jew replete with a sidelocks, a large nose and a wide-brimmed hat, while beating it with sticks.

In a statement from the Polish Episcopal Conference — the church’s main organ — Bishop Rafal Markowski said that in the  “context of the events that took place in Pruchnik on Good Friday, Apr. 19, the Church clearly expresses her disapproval of practices that harm human dignity.”

Markowski emphasized that the “Catholic Church will never tolerate signs of contempt for members of any nation, including the Jewish people.”

Friday’s gruesome spectacle was first reported by local newspaper Expres Jaroslawski, whose correspondent, Hubert Lewkowicz, expressed shock that the eighteenth-century “Judas court” ritual was being revived “after a break of a few years.”

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At 5 p.m. last Friday — the hour, in church tradition, that Jesus was crucified by the Roman authorities — the antisemitic effigy was cut down from a pole in the main square in Pruchnik and dragged to the front of the town’s church. The words “Judas 2019” and “Traitor” were scrawled in black ink on the effigy’s chest.

Video shot by Lewkowicz showed an adult man instructing several children to beat the effigy with sticks, kicks and stones as a “punishment” for the crime of Judas — one of the original disciples who betrayed Jesus to the Romans, according to the Christian Bible. At one point, after the effigy had received 30 lashes from a stick to symbolize the 30 pieces of silver supposedly paid to Judas, an adult was heard encouraging the children to continue.

“Give him five [lashes] more for the fact that they want compensation from Poland,” the adult shouted towards the crown, according to Lewkowicz. Polish ultranationalists have for several years insisted that Jewish commemoration of the three million Polish Jews murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust was motivated solely by financial gain, invoking the most widespread antisemitic stereotype prevalent in Polish society.

After the effigy was cut to pieces and burned, its remains were thrown from a bridge into the nearby Mleczka river. Lewkowicz wrote that as the effigy landed in the water, a woman standing beside him expressed disappointment at its quick disappearance. “In my day, there was more water and you could watch him swim,” the woman reportedly said.

Bishop Markowski nonetheless asserted that Friday’s ritual was un-Christian. “We remember the truth of faith that Christ gave his life for the salvation of all, which results in a Christian attitude of respect for every human being,” he said.

Jewish groups and Israeli leaders viscerally condemned the display in Pruchnik. In a statement expressing “disgust and outrage,” Robert Singer — CEO of the World Jewish Congress — declared that “Jews are deeply disturbed by this ghastly revival of medieval antisemitism that led to unimaginable violence and suffering.”

In Israel, Yair Lapid — co-leader of the Blue and White party–  tweeted that “Poles should fight antisemitism, instead of passing laws which deny their part in the Holocaust”  —  a reference to legislation passed last year which effectively makes discussion of Polish complicity with the Nazi genocide illegal.

Lapid added that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — who enjoys a good, if occasionally strained, relationship with Poland’s right-wing nationalist government — “should stop hesitating, and denounce them.”

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