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November 15, 2021 11:58 am

Polish Police Arrest Ringleaders of ‘Death to the Jews’ Rally in City of Kalisz as Outcry Continues

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Kalisz citizens gather in the center of their town to protest the antisemitic demonstration that heard cries of ‘Death to the Jews!’ Photo: Polish Jewish Forum/Twitter

Polish police on Monday arrested the ringleaders of last week’s virulently antisemitic demonstration in the town of Kalisz where participants shouted “Death to the Jews!” among other slogans.

Andrzej Borowiak, a regional spokesperson for the Polish police, told the PAP news agency that three men had been charged by the district prosecutor. Wojciech Olszanski, Piotr Rybak and Marcin Osadowski led the demonstration in the Main Market Square of Kalisz last Thursday that featured a ceremonial burning of the Statute of Kalisz — a ruling issued in 1264 that guaranteed key legal protections for Jews living in the medieval Duchy of Poland.

Borowiak said that regional police officers had been “working on this case throughout the weekend, analyzing and developing the evidence that was delivered to the prosecutor’s office.” In a separate statement, a spokesperson for the district prosecutor confirmed that the three offenders were facing prosecution for “a crime involving the promotion of fascism or other totalitarian regimes and attacks on the grounds of xenophobia, racism or religious intolerance.”

One Polish government minister warned on Monday that the three men would face stiff penalties if convicted. “There is no consent for antisemitism or hatred based on nationality, religion or ethnicity,” Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski remarked in a statement. “The Polish state must show its ruthlessness and firmness towards the organizers of the disgraceful event in Kalisz.”

Earlier, Polish President Andzrej Duda had excoriated the “barbarism perpetrated by a group of hooligans in Kalisz,” even suggesting that the demonstration could be regarded as an “act of treason.” Leaders of the powerful Catholic Church in Poland also castigated the display. “We strongly condemn antisemitic behavior in Kalisz. Such attitudes have nothing to do with patriotism,” Bishop Rafal Markowski — chairman of the Polish Bishops’ Conference committee for dialogue with Jewish leaders — said in a statement.

“They undermine the dignity of their neighbor and destroy social order and peace. They are in direct contradiction to the Gospel and the teaching of the Church,” Markowski continued.

On Sunday evening, hundreds of Kalisz residents rallied in the center of the town for a protest condemning last Thursday’s scenes of antisemitic incitement.

Several Polish parliamentarians spoke at Sunday’s protest, insisting that Kalisz’s historic reputation as city of tolerance would not be tarnished by extremist provocation.

“What happened on November 11 in our city is a shameful episode that should never have occurred, but someone allowed it and I will not forgive the city’s authorities for opening the gates of this wonderful city to brownshirt agitators,” Mariusz Witczak, an MP representing the centrist Civic Platform, told the gathering.

Local councillor Piotr Mrozinski emphasized that “Kalisz is not a hostile, racist or antisemitic city.” He recalled that earlier this month, Kalisz had awarded the title of “Honorary Citizen” to Theodor Meron — a prominent American judge and expert on humanitarian law who was born into a Jewish family in Kalisz in 1930.

Sunday night’s counter-protest also heard from a group of Israelis descended from Jewish immigrants from Kalisz.

“As Israeli Jews who emigrated from Poland, we are proud of our country of origin and its culture,” the group stated in a letter that was read out to the gathering.

“We know that the recent extremist demonstration in Kalisz does not represent the majority of Poles and Polish culture. In every country there are groups of people who have to hate someone or blame them for all the troubles that occur in their country,” the letter continued.

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