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Polish City of Krakow Announces Crackdown on Antisemitic ‘Lucky Jew’ Figurines

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Paintings on sale in Poland promoting the antisemitic trope that links Jews with money. Photo: Tomasz Sikora Facebook page.

The municipal authorities in Poland’s second-largest city have called for an end to the sale of so-called “lucky Jew” figurines and paintings, which depict Orthodox Jews with stereotypically antisemitic facial features counting gold coins.

“These figurines are antisemitic, and it’s time for us to realize that,” Robert Piaskowski — the cultural representative of Krakow’s mayor, Jacek Majchrowski — declared on Thursday.

“In a city like Krakow, with such a difficult heritage and a painful past, it should not be sold,” Piaskowski said. “Enough of sweeping it under the rug.”

The statement followed a consultation process launched in 2020 over the continuing sale of the figurines, which have aroused ire both inside and outside Poland. Museums, religious associations and other institutions were canvassed as to their views on the matter by the Krakow municipality.

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“Our position is a breakthrough,” Piaskowski remarked. “We finally named the phenomenon, we showed it. I hope this will be the beginning of an important conversation about Polish-Jewish relations, empathy and seeing the other.”

While the city cannot impose an outright ban on merchants selling the offending figurines, it has introduced a policy that conditions licenses for market stall holders and other retailers on a commitment not to sell them going forward.

Piaskowski said that he had visited several stores selling the figurines to persuade them otherwise.

“Recently, I was in three stores. Two owners agreed with me that the figures are inappropriate, one started to laugh,” he recalled. “But it’s not funny for foreign tourists, who are often outraged by this particular depiction of a Jew. I get a lot of letters from them.”

The phenomenon of “lucky Jew” figurines in Polish homes, normally made out of wood, has soared in popularity over the last 20 years. At one point, the figurines could even be purchased in the Polish parliament’s official gift shop, until protests from Jewish groups in 2017 stopped their continued sale. More recently, in Dec. 2019, the German-owned retail giant OBI removed similar products from 58 of its stores around Poland, including paintings of Jews wearing traditional religious items as they sat and carefully counted out their coins.

While the figurines are commonly defended in Poland as harmless totems designed to bring about financial good fortune, Jewish groups and historians counter that they conjure up the dangerous stereotype of Jews as avaricious moneylenders that triggered pogroms and other anti-Jewish atrocities over the centuries.

The former head of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman — who survived the Holocaust in Poland — has long urged educational efforts to expose the antisemitic character of  the figurines.

“Poland is full of images of the Jew in statues, sculptures, paintings celebrating the age old antisemitic canard about Jews and money … It killed Jews in Poland during the Holocaust and after the Holocaust,” Foxman told The Algemeiner in March.

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