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Why visit Poland?

It was during the Jewish heritage festival in Krakow July 2003 when I was sitting having breakfast with Shevah Weiss at the Eden Hotel (the Israeli Ambassador to Poland and a former speaker at the Knesset) that he proclaimed that three times as many Jews visit Germany rather than Poland?

This fact was extraordinary to me as I was already at the time on my 5th visit so he invited me to accompany him to a lecture to discuss this question and why world Jewry shuns Poland. His main observations were as follows:-

His young memories of wartime and post war experiences in Poland and total devastation was such that he could have never believed he would ever develop an affection for both country and people that he now has.

800 years of Jewish history in Poland has known huge anti-Semitism but it was not in the main a violent anti-Semitism as experienced as experienced in Russia, Lithuania, Ukraine or the Baltic states with regular violent pogroms.
Auschwitz-Birkenau is the most visited site in Poland (70% of visitors are Poles) and the nation is fed up with the label of being the ‘Killing Fields’ of Europe’s Jewry when it was instigated and perpetrated by the Germans with the Poles believing that the Jewish world hardly recognizes the fact that they suffered greatly themselves during nearly 6 years of occupation.
Two-thirds of righteous gentile medals have been awarded to Poles. I have tried in vain to arrange for the farmers who had saved my own father to be awarded that posthumous honour. This is because I have been unable to get Statements from their children and without them their parents belated honour will not happen.
There was at that time an extensive debate in Poland with the release of the Polanski film ‘The Pianist’, the admission and apology of the Jewabne Polish Massacre of Jews and the death of the editor of a leading Polish newspaper. He was affectionately known to be the moral heart, soul and the voice of the nation who kept his Jewish background hidden until his death. This led to a leading and extensive debate across the country about its Jewish past, and the role the nations citizens played during and since the war and particularly the suppression the countries citizens faced under Communism. It was only post Communism that the extent of the devastation of the shoah became known across the country.

He has compared the media with the rest of Europe and considers that Poland today certainly produces the most Pro-Israel and Pro-Jewish broadcasts and are almost in line with US media coverage.

The Jewish debate is always ongoing and has produced a plethora of TV programmes and articles of Jewish content, culminating in a realization across the nation of there being only 1,200 remaining survivors, the dying remnants of Polish Jewry, a soon to be extinct race from a 3.5 million pre-war population. Indeed, there are also 1,200 Jewish cemeteries within Poland, a legacy of a disappearing world. A Jewish survivor for every cemetery in the country a tragic sorry legacy.

In 2006 the Chief Rabbi of Poland Rabbi Michael Shudrich addressed the Kinloss community on the three reasons why he considers the Polish today are the most pro Jewish/Israel nation in Europe :-

The last beloved Polish Pope had a profound impact on the whole nation by visiting Israel and praying at the wailing wall asking for Jewish forgiveness for a millennium of persecution.

The polish are the most pro US nation in Europe and feel that anti-Semitism cannot relate to being pro American.
Polish youth have rejected what their parents have stood for since the 1940 including Communism and Nazism and the educated are keenly fascinated in all aspects of Jewish culture and heritage.

Finally, Shimon Peres the president of Israel addressed the Polish Senate in Warsaw April 2008 with the following words ‘I come to you from Israel, a land as old as the TEN COMMANDMENTS, and as new as the INTERNET, to address the new democratic and unoccupied Poland. Poland had the world’s biggest Jewish population 3.5 million prewar and it was there that they spoke in Yiddish, studied in Hebrew and prayed L’SHANA HABA B’YERUSHALAYIM. Jewish life disappeared without trace with communist expulsion of the few remaining survivors. Although the whole of Europe was affected by the Holocaust the greatest tragedy took place in Poland which is why Jewish memory and Jewish pain are directed to Poland even though it was the Germans who were the perpetrators. Israel is thankful to Poland to giving birth to the majority of their 1st Knesset and thanks today’s Poland’s for being their best friend in Europe’.

Poland’s legacy of a great Diaspora alas will always be one of being ‘The killing fields of Europe’ with the remnants of 1,200 cemeteries, approximately one cemetery for each affiliated Jew left.