Sunday, February 27, 2011

Interview w/ Polish FM

A fascinating interview came out of Israel today, where Ha'aretz interviewed Poland's Foreign Minister. Mr. Sikorski, who is married to a Jewish American woman who happens to also be a Pulitzer Prize winner and well-known journalist, speaks eloquently about Poland's past, its involvement in the Holocaust, and its history vis-a-vis the Jewish people. I love reading about high-level officials like this, for I feel it's enlightening to see how they view their country's past and how they interpret the events that brought Poland to its knees 70 years ago. While Mr. Sikorski does not acknowledge that, outside the years that comprised the Holocaust, Poland's relationship with its 3.5 million strong Jewish population wasn't always rose gardens, he poignantly makes clear that the Holocaust, and the death camps that live on Polish soil, were not the creation of the Polish state.

He states:
The Polish state was too weak in 1939 to stand up to Nazi Germany. It was not able to defend all its citizens. Nazi Germany carried out the Holocaust on our soil - against our will, but in front of our eyes.

He goes on to speak about Poland's friendship with Israel:
Poland and the Jewish people share a thousand-year history, and ever since we regained our independence, the state-to-state relations have also increased in importance. Both Israel and Poland live in interesting and at times dangerous neighborhoods, and so both take security matters with the utmost seriousness... We would like to upgrade Israel's relations with the EU. Today Israel already has privileged relations with the EU, which includes regular summits and regular high-level contacts, but we would like to see more.

Later on he speaks about Iran, and describes Poland's position:
We do not feel threatened by Iran. We are not high on the ayatollah's list of targets. Our opposition to Iranian policy is based on the conception that theocracy is the last form of ideological dictatorship of the 21st century, after fascism and communism. This is why we also opposed the Durban II conference against racism, at which Iran intended to spread hatred and anti-Semitism. After all, our country does not lack for physical traces of what anti-Semitism can lead to.

In posting this, I realize what I wrote above is inaccurate, in that he does acknowledge anti-Semitism in Poland's history. He's certainly not direct with it, and he doesn't go into details by, for example, mentioning Kielce, or Jedwabne, or Radzilow; perhaps what is most important is that he recognizes that Polish-Jewish relations were a challenge at one time. But is that enough? Should we expect more? The author asks the Foreign Minister if modern Poland is now philo-Semitic, and his answer is fascinating:

The fact that a large portion of the world's Jews lived in Poland before the Holocaust needs to be taken into account. For generations, Poland absorbed Jews while they were expelled from other countries. The Holocaust that took place on our soil was conducted against our will by someone else. So what is happening now is simply that free Poland is returning to its natural self.

Certainly, there does seem to be a greater acceptance, (or might a better word be appreciation?) by Poles of their country's rich Jewish heritage.  Rabbi Schudrich has been quoted as saying that many Poles would like to 'do something Jewish.' The annual Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow is attended mostly by Poles, and I know from my Fulbright affiliation with the Foundation for Preservation for Jewish Heritage in Poland, that teachers and young people are exploring the country's Jewish heritage together. It's wonderful to read about and even more fascinating to explore in person when visiting Poland. I simply can't get enough of this!

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