Poland is Not Yet Lost, But …

, March 4, 2018

No. 120,     17 Adar 5778

At this present, crucial moment, for the future development of relations between Poland and Israel, it is important to remember the following words, spoken by the unforgettable Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin at the Plac Bohaterow Getta in Warsaw on April 19, 1993:

We have come here tonight, in order to strengthen our friendship with the Polish people […] We have come to pay respects to those of the Polish people who tried, with the last of their meager powers and at the risk of their lives, to strike at the Nazi beast.1

There is an amazing variety of aspects and facts to Polish history and society. Yet, stereotypes will not help us design a better future. Indeed, one of the best jokes under the old regime (1945 – 1989) was: what is the trickiest problem to face? Answer: history.

Since 1993, so many positive events have taken place in both Poland and Israel. Most observers would have thought that the bonds of friendship and partnership now uniting Poland and Israel would be strong enough to weather any future possible crisis. To understand what is at stake, we only need to read the article in The Jerusalem Post from December 17, 2017, where it states that Poland is one of Israel’s  staunchest allies in the European Union.2

In the opinion of the present author, good Polish-Israeli relations are  not only important for these two countries themselves, but also for the entire free world because both peoples suffered like no one else  during the Nazi terror in World War II. The arguments below  may be helpful in designing a way out of the current crisis and may hopefully serve as a continuation of the bonds of friendshipthat developed after the Polish democratic transformation in 1989.

Many official encounters have taken place following the memorable commemoration of  the 50th anniversary of the Ghetto Uprising in Warsaw on April 19, 1993.  However, one that is especially worthy of  mention is the not-too-distant encounter between the current Israeli Prime Minister Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu and the four heads of government of the new democracies in Eastern Europe, commonly called the Visegrad States, in Budapest on July 19, 2017.3

Let us draw some solid lessons from April 19, 1993, when the white and blue Israeli flag flew side by side with the red and white Polish flag for the first time on the soil of the new and democratic Poland.

But first of all, what really happened recently? The utterly unacceptable and outrageous remarks by the current Polish Prime Minister, Mr. Mateusz Morawiecki, spoken in Munich on February 18, 2018, don’t need to be repeated here. His words about “Jewish perpetrators of the Shoah”4 cast a very sad, different, and pessimistic light on Poland and its history, amply described by many historians and other researchers from around the world.5 Furthermore, it is also time for the current Polish State President and Commander in Chief of the Polish Armed Forces, Mr. Andrzej Sebastian Duda, and the Primate of the Polish Catholic Church, Archbishop Wojciech Polak, to forcefully speak out against the current wave of anti-Semitism and irrationality in the name of what is so beautifully called in Poland the “Polska Racja Stanu” (“the National Interest”.)

So “exit” the “staunchest ally” reading of events, and enter “anti-Semitism,” which the Poles, according to the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, “suck in with their mother’s milk”6 Prime Minister Shamir, who said the above in 1991, lost his parents in Poland in the Shoah. He believed that anti-Semitism is deeply imbued in Polish tradition and mentality.7 Under the new “historiography” laws now passed in Poland, condemning any critical debate of Polish history such as the murder of the Jews in Jedwabne by Polish villagers, or of instances of cooperation by Polish citizens with the German Nazi occupiers, Mr. Shamir would have been most probably sent to prisonas soon as he stepped on Polish soil.

What caused this change in attitude? Unfortunately, the latest event – the Morawiecki affair, already described as a “meltdown” of the Polish-Israeli relationship8 – is indeed the tip of the iceberg. Ever since the democratic transformation of Poland, the problem of the still existing hard-core nationalist, anti-Semitic political Right identifying itself with the worst traditions of the anti-Semitic and authoritarian Endecija in the short-lived Polish Republic before World War II has subsisted and been overlooked by many political commentators, diplomats, and international decision-makers. Any solution for any problem has to start, however, with realistic “intelligence,” i.e. an analysis of what is happening “on the ground.” The continuation of Endecija’s thinking among the Polish Right after 1989 is the problem, which not only Israel, but the entire free world, now has to confront. Looking the other way when such things happen is how to build up a lasting foreign policy partnership for the future.9

What is to be done? It would be absolutely erroneous to take only one part of the picture as  the whole, and not to believe in the other, better Poland, the Poland of the future.10 It is also important that the forces of democracy in Poland gain quick, intellectual superiority.” The subsistence of the Endecija vision of the world after 1989 in Poland is nurtured by the erroneous and false assumption of the “Zydokomuna,” i.e. the alleged Jewish–Soviet collaboration in importing Communism into Poland after 1945, and the equally erroneous and false assumption that Jews did not sufficiently identify with the Polish Republic before 1939. But the facts are truly different:

  • 4,976 Jewish Officers fought in the ranks of the Polish Armed Forces against the Nazi terror.11
  • There were 700-900 Jewish victims in the Katyn massacre.12
  • Up to 100,000 Polish Jews perished at the hands of the Soviet Union, Hitler’s ally from 1939 to 1941.13 Among them was the Chief Rabbi of Poland, Mojżesz Schorr (May 10, 1874 – July 8, 1941).14

Who is really against a liberal, modern, tolerant and democratic Poland? Already in the 1990s, newspapers such as Nasza Polska and Gazetta Polska, published articles with the same vitriolic blueprint of hate and contempt of everything Jewish and of everything that Jews and non-Jews achieved together in Poland. This seems to be erupting again today. The world outlook of the national conservative Right wing in Poland always was and always will be modelled by the fiercely anti-Semitic thought of Roman Stanisław Dmowski (1864 – 1939), architect of the right-wing National Democracy (“ND”: in Polish, “Endecija”) movement in Poland. This movement was not only very much opposed to the political Left, but it was also against Polish military and political leader Józef Piłsudski and his moderate vision of Poland as a multinational federation.15

Strictly speaking, the gigantic political clash between Dmowski and Pilsudski has never ended. It existed in the prewar Polish Republic, and it continues to exist in the new Poland of today. The fault lines of this earthquake are even to be found in the midst of the Roman Catholic Church.

Under the papacy of Pope John Paul II, the global Roman Catholic Church referred to Jews for the first time in its history as its  “older brothers in faith.”16 This term, used by the Polish Pope John Paul II during his historic visit to the Great Synagogue in Rome on April 13, 1986,17 was a far cry from all the negative declarations emanating from the heads of the Roman Catholic Church on Judaism and the Jews during the past two thousand years.18

But, just as we have to remember the unforgettable Pope John Paul II, we are also confronted with the ugly face of anti-Semitism, present in Polish church history before and even after 1939. Just let us mention here the infamous episcopal letter of Cardinal Hlond, the Polish Primate in 1936.19 It characterizes the thinking of the nationalist right-wing political camp in Poland on Judaism and “the Jews:”

So long as Jews remain Jews, a Jewish problem exists and will continue to exist (…) It is a fact that Jews are waging war against the Catholic church, that they are steeped in free-thinking, and constitute the vanguard of atheism, the Bolshevik movement, and revolutionary activity. It is a fact that Jews have a corruptive influence on morals and that their publishing houses are spreading pornography. It is true that Jews are perpetrating fraud, practicing usury, and dealing in prostitution. It is true that, from a religious and ethical point of view, Jewish youth are having a negative influence on the Catholic youth in our schools.

The inability of most political observers, diplomats, scholars, and journalists to comprehend the current re-emergence of Polish anti-Semitism also largely stems from their inability to grasp both the political and regional dynamics involved in this drama of the “Two Polands,” where the nationalist agenda has found a fertile ground among the losers of globalization and modernization in the more economically backward regions of the country.20

The neo-liberal transformation strategy since the end of Communism (who did not hear about Mr. Leszek Balcerowicz and his “shock therapy” in 1989?), put into practice under prime ministers such as Tadeusz Mazowiecki, Jan Krzysztof Bielecki, Hanna Suchocka, Jerzy Buzek, and Donald Tusk, was largely unchanged also by the political Left when they were in power. However, it also provided a veritable breeding ground for the present rise of the hardcore nationalist political Right, which has wielded full political power in Poland since 2015.

In analytical terms, the global Anti-Semitism Survey of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the ADL 100, rated the level of Polish anti-Semitism as existing among 45 percent of the total adult population of the country as in 2014. Furthermore, Poland ranked at #25 on the global list of Jew-hatred in 101 countries. Among the EU countries with complete data, only Greece (69%) is worse than Poland. Worse still, among the nations where more than 10 percent of the population are Roman Catholics, only Lebanon and Panama surpassed Poland on that list of shame. These figures were taken 79 years after the beginning of World War II. Even the long reign of Polish Pope John Paul II, which lasted from 1978 to 2005, and who rightfully must be regarded – as no other Pope in history – as the most pro-Jewish Pope, could not change this sad state of affairs.

Nevertheless, we still need to look toward the other, better Poland, the Poland of the future.21 Let us never forget the robust lesson of April 19, 1943: that during the Ghetto uprising the white and blueflag of Zionism flew side by side with the red and white of the Polish flag for the first time in Poland after the Nazi German attack of September 1st, 1939.22 The peaceful, but decisive, struggle for the future of democracy in Poland must begin.

* * *


1 http://mfa.gov.il/MFA/PressRoom/1993/Pages/RABIN%20SPEECH%20AT%2050TH%20ANNIVERSARY%20OF%20WARSAW%20GHETTO.aspx

2 http://www.jpost.com/Diaspora/Polish-president-receives-menorah-with-Jerusalem-engraving-518286

3 http://www.visegradgroup.eu/calendar/selected-events-in-2017-170203/joint-statement-on-the

4 https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2018/02/18/polish-leader-denies-being-a-holocaust-revisionist-after-blaming-jewish-perpetrators/?utm_term=.48d83da224a0

5 Heller, Celia Stopnicka. On the edge of destruction: Jews of Poland between the two world wars. Wayne State University Press, 1980; Modras, Ronald. The Catholic church and antisemitism: Poland, 1933-1939. Vol. 1. Psychology Press, 2000

6 http://www.nytimes.com/1991/05/21/world/walesa-in-israel-regrets-poland-s-anti-semitism.html

7 http://www.nytimes.com/1991/05/21/world/walesa-in-israel-regrets-poland-s-anti-semitism.html

8 http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Poland-Israel-meltdown-demands-Elisha-Wiesel-543068

9 https://www.timesofisrael.com/polish-pm-visits-grave-of-nazi-collaborators-drawing-fresh-ire/

10 https://www.haaretz.com/opinion/how-poles-are-vilified-as-bestial-brute-jew-killers-1.5826424

11 http://www.zchor.org/meirtchak/meirtchak.htm

12 https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/csi-studies/studies/winter99-00/art6.html

13 Davies, Norman. God’s Playground A History of Poland: Volume II: 1795 to the Present. Vol. 2. Oxford University Press, 2005

14 Studies in memory of Moses Schorr, 1874-1941. Edited by Louis Ginzberg and Abraham Weiss. Published New York, Professor Moses Schorr Memorial Committee, 1944; http://www.diapozytyw.pl/en/site/organizacje/schorr; and Roman Zakharii: M. Schorr, The Outstanding Rabbi, Assyriologist And Historian of Eastern European Jewry. Jewish Lviv 51 (2008).

15 Davies, Norman. God’s Playground A History of Poland: Volume II: 1795 to the Present. Vol. 2. Oxford University Press, 2005 and Walicki, Andrzej. “The troubling legacy of Roman Dmowski.” East European Politics and Societies 14.1 (1999): 12-46. Further studies on this important subject include: Krzywiec, Grzegorz. “Eliminationist Anti-Semitism at Home and Abroad: Polish Nationalism, the Jewish Question and Eastern European Right-Wing Mass Politics.” The New Nationalism and the First World War. Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2015. 65-91; Wolentarska‐Ochman, Ewa. “Jedwabne and the power struggle in Poland (remembering the Polish‐Jewish past a decade after the collapse of communism).” Perspectives on European Politics and Society 4.2 (2003): 171-189; Resende, Madalena Meyer. Catholicism and Nationalism: Changing Nature of Party Politics. Routledge, 2014.

16 Los Angeles Times, “Pope Praises Jews as ‘Our Elder Brothers in the Faith” http://articles.latimes.com/1987-08-20/news/mn-3718_1_elder-brothers, August 20, 1987; and New York Times, “TEXT OF POPE’S SPEECH AT ROME SYNAGOGUE: ‘YOU ARE OUR ELDER BROTHERS’” April 14, 1986, http://www.nytimes.com/1986/04/14/world/text-of-pope-s-speech-at-rome-synagogue-you-are-our-elder-brothers.html?pagewanted=all

17 Time Magazine, « What Happened the First Time a Pope Visited a Synagogue”, http://time.com/4280602/pope-john-paul-synagogue-visit/, April 13, 1986

18 For a brief survey of the vast literature on the subject, see Arno Tausch, “The Effects of ‘Nostra Aetate:’ Comparative Analyses of Catholic Antisemitism More Than Five Decades after the Second Vatican Council” (January 8, 2018). Available at SSRN, New York: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3098079

19 Hlond, August (1936) List pasterski: O Katolickie zasady moralne. 29 February 1936 and Modras, Ronald (1994) The Catholic Church and Antisemitism: Poland, 1933-1939. Overseas Publishers Association N.V. Reprinted 2004 by Routledge

20] For quantitative evidence on this, see Tausch, Arno, and Peter Herrmann. Globalization and European integration. Nova Science Publishers, 2001, and Tausch, Arno. Schwierige Heimkehr:[Sozialpolitik, Migration, Transformation und die Osterweiterung der EU. Eberhard, 1997.

21 https://www.haaretz.com/opinion/how-poles-are-vilified-as-bestial-brute-jew-killers-1.5826424

22 http://www.polin.pl/en/news/2017/03/17/the-warsaw-ghetto-uprising-historical-information

Arno Tausch

Arno Tausch, a liberal Roman Catholic, is currently associated with Corvinus University, Budapest, Hungary, and Innsbruck University, Austria. He was Counsellor for Labor and Migration at the Austrian Embassy in Warsaw, 1992-1999, and was a contributor of several works for the Polish Institute for International Affairs (PISM). The author has been married to his Polish wife since 1978.