The Tel Aviv Cafe in Warsaw, Poland is not what you might expect to find on a visit to the city. A Kosher vegetarian restaurant serving Israeli style cuisine and exceptionally popular according the myriad of reviews found online. A nice surprise all in all.
However, unfortunately, the restaurant received a recent nasty surprise in the form of anti-Semitic graffiti being spray-painted across the entire frontage.
The translation of these slogans read, “Free Palestine,” “Zionism is Racism,” and “The wall is your shame.”
The identity of the perpetrators is not yet known. However, the owners confirmed via their Facebook page that the matter had been reported to police. They tried to make light of the situation asking whether there was, “Enough water to wash it all” off? They finished their post with the slogan, “MAKE HUMMUS NOT WALL!!!!”
Anti-Semitic vandalism in Poland is not a new problem. In February, anti-Semitic graffiti was spray painted on monuments at a Jewish cemetery in the city of Sochaczew (pronounced: Sokhatchev) in central Poland. The text included the statement, “Holocaust never happened”.
Despite appeals by the Sochaczew museum to have the graffiti removed, at the end of February it was still in place.
The figure was replete with traditional peot and wore a black hat, ironic considering the city was chosen as the European Capital of Culture for 2016, along with Basque’s San Sebastian.
The protest was organized by the National-Radical Camp and All-Polish Youth. The effigy was holding an EU flag, likely meant to symbolise anti-Semitic conspiracies of Jewish control. The incident was part of a rally by 200 people who gathered to protest EU requirements that Poland accept refugees from Syria and Iraq.
Currently the Polish prosecutor announced that an indictment on charges of incitement to anti-Semitism and racism has been submitted against Piotr Rybak, a construction contractor who set the Jewish effigy on fire. Rybak may face as long as two years in jail if convicted of the charges leveled against him last week.
According to the indictment announcement, a decision is also to be made in coming days whether or not to stand other people on trial who were involved in the protest and the burning of the effigy.
In video footage from the protest Rybak can be heard saying, “we won’t bring even a single Muslim to Poland. Poland is only for Poles,” before seconds later lighting the Jewish effigy on fire.
In investigation he refused to answer the questions of the police investigators, and claimed he “didn’t do anything forbidden.”
The incident comes amid another case of anti-Semitism in the same city of Wroclaw, as a local high school just recently decided to cancel a ceremony in which a poem containing blatant anti-Semitism was to be read.
During the ceremony, which was organized by the school’s English teacher, the students were to read a poem written by one of the most famous Polish poets, Leszek Czajkowski.
The poem includes the line: “an American Jew writes about your guilt in the Holocaust, the word ‘shame’ is unknown to him, even though he grew up in a Polish family.”
After the parents of several students complained, the management of the school decided to cancel the ceremony.
A group of Jewish tourists from Israel and the US visiting the grave sites of Rebbes and scholars in Easter Europe discovered in the city of Sochaczew (pronounced: Sokhatchev) in central Poland, several memorial structures as well as a few graves that were desecrated with crude graffiti. The text included the statements, “Holocaust never happened” (accompanied by a Hitler Smiling Face), and “Islamic State was here.” There was also “Islam will dominate,” and a vulgar comment about Jews. One large memorial wall called on Allah to bless Hitler.
On September 3, 1939, at the very beginning of the Invasion of Poland, Sochaczew was bombed by the Luftwaffe. German forces remained in Sochaczew until January 17, 1945, when the town was captured by the Red Army. During the war, Sochaczew lost more than 4,000 residents, all of them Jewish, and almost half of its buildings were destroyed.
Recently, AntiSemitismWatch reported on one significant effect the political move to the right was having in Poland.
Unlike the previous Polish presidential incumbent, Bronislaw Komorowski, who was widely praised and acknowledged for such actions as recognising Polish complicity in the Holocaust, less than a year after Poland elected Andrzej Duda, a previously little-known right-wing politician as president, the impact of Warsaw’s nationalist government is continuing to be felt.
The press is under attack in many countries as populist movements challenge media. In Germany the far-right Pegida movement and the (nearly as far-right) AfD party are known for using the term “Lügenpresse” – the lying press. In Poland, it is the right-wing establishment that is opposed to the media – some of it, anyway. According to Adam Leszczyńsk, a columnist at Poland’s Gazeta Wyborcza, Law and Justice party leader Jarosław Kaczyński sees the publication as a spearhead of liberalism and non-Polish values. “In my 22 years of work for Gazeta I have never felt such pressure – and I never got so much hate mail, a lot of it full of antisemitic vitriol,” writes Leszczyńsk, warning that the paper’s mother company could be target of a hostile takeover.
Government institutions, he reports, have cancelled subscriptions, but he notes that “readership has gone up since the elections and morale in the newsroom is high”.
In an era where there are those concerned about the ongoing impact of assimilation perhaps March of the Living offers a valuable insight into positive ways forward. Not only in terms of preserving Yiddishkeit but also in teaching individuals the importance of standing up to anti-Semitism.
More than 220,000 participants have experienced March of the Living International (MOLI) trips to Eastern Europe and Israel and now MOLI has published a study examining the effects that the program has had on its participants.
The internationally known Holocaust Educational program which takes on average 10,000-20,000 students annually to Poland and Israel with the goal of educating and inspiring future generations to learn from the destruction of the European Continent during the Second World War, accepts applicants from all walks of life and religions, hoping to ensure that not only is the Holocaust not forgotten, but also that it is never repeated.
The report studies the impacts that the program has on its Jewish Participants, and highlights the educational and religious changes that the program has inspired since its creation in 1988. Of the population surveyed, most initially signed on to the program in order to better understand their Jewish culture. Many of the participants in the study said that the program has directly impacted them, inspiring many to visit, study, or move to Israel. 50 percent of the respondents said that the program caused them to consider moving to Israel later in life.
The study was conducted by Professor William Helmreich of CUNY Graduate Center and the Colin Powell School at City College in New York, a highly respected sociologist and expert on ethnic identity. “What’s most remarkable about the March is how deeply it impacts participants over a period of many years. These include life choices like selecting a mate, moving to Israel, and career choices. In addition, it greatly impacts not only on Jewish identity but also on compassion toward other people as well.”
Indeed, 54 percent of respondents said that the March had made them more tolerant towards other groups. An effect which increases over the years, as 66 percent of those who attended the March ten years ago, reported it had made them more tolerant.
The study also found that 86 percent of the participants asserted the importance in their spouse being Jewish, and 91 percent in raising their children with some sort of Jewish education. 65 percent felt the importance of raising their children in a Jewish neighborhood.
90 percent of those surveyed also felt the March instilled in them the importance of reacting to confrontations with anti-Semitism, and 95 percent stated the March had strengthened their sense of Jewish Identity.
“We are very pleased with the results of this study” said Dr. Shmuel Rosenman, chairman of The International March of the Living. “To think that the March is such a successful program in terms of ensuring and enhancing Jewish identity and in making people realize the importance of engaging as a Jew within their communities and caring for those outside of them, truly illustrates the goals that we had when initially forming the first March so many years ago. The International March of the Living looks forward to the next generation of participants and instilling in them these same values.”
What a difference a President can make! The previous Polish presidential incumbent, Bronislaw Komorowski, was widely praised and acknowledged for recognising Polish complicity in the Holocaust. Less than a year after Poland elected Andrzej Duda, a previously little-known right-wing politician as president, Warsaw’s nationalist government has moved to strip a leading Jewish Holocaust scholar of a national honour for asserting simply what Komorowski acknowledged, that Poland was in part responsible for Nazi war crimes against its Jewish population during World War II.
The Guardian reported on Sunday that Jan Tomasz Gross, a Polish-born Princeton University history professor, was awarded the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland in 1996 for his extensive work documenting the fate of Polish Jews in Nazi-occupied Poland. His notable 2001 book “Neighbors,” examined the massacre of some 1,500 Jews from the village of Jedwabne, as part of which Gross concluded it was the Poles, not the Nazis, who committed the atrocity.
The book inspired the 2012 film “Aftermath,” the first Polish movie to address the responsibility of local residents for the massacres of Jews during the Holocaust.
Gross’s work in recent years has triggered furious reactions by Polish nationalists, who claim there is insufficient evidence to support assertions which they say blacken the country’s reputation by falsely depicting Poland as a perpetrator rather than a victim of Nazi occupation.
In October, Polish prosecutors opened a libel probe against Gross after he sought to explain Poland’s wariness regarding accepting Syrian migrants streaming into Europe by referring to widespread anti-Semitism during the war in an op-ed published in the German newspaper Die Welt.
“The Poles, for example, were indeed rightfully proud of their society’s resistance against the Nazis, but in fact did kill more Jews than Germans during the war,” the 68-year-old historian wrote.
A spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry at the time called Gross’s article “historically untrue, harmful and insulting to Poland.”
Reports that Gross was to be stripped of the honour were met with outrage by Holocaust scholars and academics worldwide, who submitted a number of letters in defense of the historian and slammed Warsaw for attempting to whitewash history.
“The government says Gross is unpatriotic. But he is a patriot who looks at both the darker and lighter periods in Polish history,” wrote one of the signatories, University of Ottawa history professor Jan Grabowski, according to The Guardian.
In the latest of our well received global news round-ups:
Poland: The city of Olkusz in southern Poland has decided to set up security at its Jewish cemetery and build a high wall around the site after an Israel Hayom report exposed vandalism and anti-Semitic graffiti defacing some of the headstones.
Israel Hayom reported on April 7 that the old Jewish cemetery in Olkusz had been the target of vandalism. Dozens of headstones were smashed, some were burned, and others were sprayed with graffiti, including the Polish words for “Jews out.”
The report sparked a backlash in Poland, where many expressed anger that the cemetery was unprotected. When the criticism reached Olkusz Mayor Roman Piasnik, he announced that the situation was unacceptable and decided to take immediate action to protect the cemetery from anti-Semitic gangs.
France: French police are investigating an attack on a 53-year-old Jewish man on his way out of synagogue Saturday afternoon, the French edition of The Local reported Monday.
One of three assailants pulled out a knife and the others urged him to stab the Jewish man, saying, “Go on, stab him, Jew,” the victim of the attack told Le Parisien. The incident took place as the man was leaving the Saint-Ouen synagogue in the Seine-Saint-Denis area, north of Paris.
The victim, who owns a supermarket and has lived in the area for 15 years, told the French media the first assailant went for the knife after repeatedly calling him a “dirty Jew” and spitting at him.
Ukraine: The head of the European Jewish Congress donated $100,000 to strengthen Jewish communal security in Kiev, the country’s chief rabbi told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.
Speaking by phone, Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich thanked EJC President Dr. Moshe Kantor for the grant, which he said has allowed for constant coverage of institutions in the Ukrainian capital.
Kantor has done “great things,” Bleich said, explaining that since the 2013-2014 Euromaidan Revolution “there have been issues and problems, and he was forthcoming in helping the Jewish communities strengthen their security infrastructure and maintain round-the clock security for the schools and synagogues in Kiev.”
“We have gone from the height of insecurity after the [revolution] to a very calm and serene atmosphere where parents feel safe sending their children to school and where young people feel safe coming to synagogue because of the security that we have implemented,” he said.
USA: As tension between religious groups grows throughout the world, one community in Southern Bronx is trying to bring more peace between the various faiths by joining together to renovate a synagogue.
Christian, Jewish and Muslim volunteers recently came together to restore the “Shul in the Mosque,” a synagogue housed inside of a mosque, located in an area of the Bronx that is home to an Islamic community, according to CBS News.
The doors between the communities opened when Young Israel Congregation was hosting a drive for needy families a few years back, and Masjid Al-Iman founder of Sheikh Moussa Drammeh offered a donation.
The Parkchester neighborhood was once Jewish, but over the years the dynamic has changed due to an influx of African immigrants. Drammeh is also originally from Gambia.
The synagogue and mosque were both in dire need of repair. This encouraged friend Rabbi Bob Kaplan, founder of the New York City Center and Coalition of the Jewish Community Relations, and Drammeh to unite the community. The goal was to teach volunteers and witnesses the value of shared space and working together with other religious cultures.
“We decided to bring together students from the Riverdale Y, from the synagogue, from the mosque here, and from Manhattan College to come together – Christians, Jews and Muslims coming together to make a more beautiful place for folks to pray in,” Kaplan said.
As one volunteer said to News 12, “We live in a time of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, and what today could be seen as ordinary becomes special because it’s against that horrific backdrop.”
We here at ASW.com believe that only by understanding the wider global context of Antisemitism can we properly start to understand and challenge this evil. Only by moving away from navel gazing in just our own back yard can progress be made. All too frequently people and organisations appear to trouble themselves simply about what is going on in their locality. It is a start but it is not enough. Through our global horizon scanning ASW is able to begin the process of ‘joining the dots up’ to make a real difference!
In our latest find ASW brings you a report about the hostility minorities, including Jews, face currently in the Baltic states and the on-going attempts by some in those countries to rewrite Holocaust history.
Efraim Zuroff, chief Nazi-hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, writing for i24news explains this year marks the 25th anniversary of Baltic independence and more than a decade of full membership in the European Union and NATO. If the assumption was that those developments would cure Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian society from the scourges of fascism, racism, and anti-Semitism, the events of the past month clearly show that these plagues have not been eradicated. During this period, four separate neo-Nazi/ultra-nationalist marches were held in the Baltics, all of which I attended as a monitor/protester, and I believe that it is important to publicize what I saw and attempt to evaluate the importance and potential dangers posed by those events.
The first question in that regard is the legal status of these marches. Those in Latvia (in Riga on March 16, to honor Latvian SS veterans) and in Lithuania (in Kaunas on February 16 and in Vilnius on March 11, both days on which Lithuanian independence is celebrated) have been a subject of controversy since they were launched, in Latvia in the 1990s and in Lithuania in 2008. Local courts decided to allow the marches on the basis of freedom of speech, and all attempts to have them banned, or at least moved out of the city center, including my appeals this year to the mayors of both Lithuanian cities, have not achieved any practical results.
The second question concerns the sponsors of the events and the number and identity of the marchers. With the exception of Estonia, where the march was organized by the Blue Awakening youth movement, closely linked to the new Conservative People’s Party (EKRE), the organizers in Lithuania and Latvia are not officially connected to political parties, but clearly identify with those on the extreme right. In the past, there were government ministers who participated in the SS veterans’ march in Latvia, but since the annexation of Crimea, the government has forbidden such participation and last year it cost a minister his post. This year quite a few MP’s from the right-wing All for Latvia party marched, and the ministers of justice and of culture, along with Parliament Speaker Ingrida Murnietse, attended a memorial service for the SS.
The number of marchers ranged from 200 in Tallinn to 500 in Kaunas and 1,500 each in Vilnius and Riga. In Estonia, the overwhelming majority of marchers were young – most appeared to be high school students – whereas in Lithuania, most were young adults and in Riga there were also many elderly supporters. One must remember, however, that for every person marching, there are at least several hundred Lithuanians, Latvians, and Estonians who fully agree with the marchers’ ideology. Thus, for example, in Estonia’s election several days after the march, the EKRE obtained seven parliamentary seats (out of 101), after garnering more than 46,000 votes.
Two dangerous themes were dominant in practically every event. The first was the open hostility toward local minorities – Poles, Russians and Jews in Lithuania, the latter two in Latvia and Estonia. The second was support for ongoing efforts throughout much of post-Communist Eastern Europe to rewrite the narrative of World War II and the Holocaust. These are designed to hide or minimize the extensive crimes by local Nazi collaborators, promote the canard of equivalency between Nazi and Communist crimes (erroneously classified as genocide), and glorify those who fought against the Soviets regardless of whether they had murdered Jews during the Holocaust.
“Section of the march gets underway at Vilnius’s Cathedral Square on the March 11th independence day event organized by neo-Nazi and far-right elements with state acquiescence.”
Thus, Latvian SS veterans are portrayed as freedom fighters who paved the way for independence, even though the Nazis had absolutely no intention of granting the Baltic countries sovereignty, and marchers in Kaunas carried a huge banner with the image of Juozas Ambrazevicius, the prime minister of a short-lived provisional Lithuanian government, who publicly supported the Third Reich and lethal measures against Lithuanian Jews. In both Lithuanian cities many marchers wore swastikas, and in Vilnius, a large black SS flag was displayed. Only in Estonia was this theme missing, but each summer an international gathering of SS veterans from all over Europe is held, including from countries in which such meetings are legally banned.
The final question relates to the reactions to the demonstrations. Unfortunately, with the exception of Riga where about two dozen protesters symbolically “fumigated” the Freedom Monument after the SS march, there were very few counter-protesters, 12 individuals in Kaunas, no one besides myself in Tallinn, and about 20 in Vilnius, almost all of whom came thanks to the dedicated efforts of Prof. Dovid Katz, the editor of www.defendinghistory.com who is the sole active Jewish voice in the Baltics against Holocaust distortion.
The only good news was that for the first time since Faina Kukliansky assumed the post of Chairperson of the Lithuanian Jewish community, she issued a statement denouncing the march in Vilnius (after ignoring the one in Kaunas), and several community officials participated in our protest. There was only silence from the Jewish communities of Latvia and Estonia, as well as from the Israeli embassies in Vilnius, Riga and Helsinki.
Outside of the region, with the exception of Russia, there were no official responses despite numerous international media reports, especially about the Riga march. I can only surmise that perhaps the incessant, and to a large extent justified (albeit often exaggerated) criticism from Moscow of this phenomenon, has silenced those in the West, who long ago should have been the first to object.
The citizens of central Polish city Częstochowa were up and arms last week after noticing a huge yellow swastika sprayed on the asphalt of a nightclub’s parking lot, the Telegraph reported.
Residents rushed to complain to local police, claiming that the swastika could be seen from afar and that anyone walking in the city’s center would spot it.
Displaying Nazi symbols is a criminal offence in Poland and carries a prison sentence.
Marek Pelian, the owner of the Ray disco, denied in interviews with local media that it was an Antisemitic act, or that the symbol was meant to be perceived as a swastika.
“What swastika? This is just the yellow brick road from the Wizard of Oz,” Pelian claimed, explaining that one arm leads to the nightclub’s door, while another will lead to an outdoor stage, not yet built.
“This design has four arms, just like the galaxy, and this is astronomical disco,” he added. “Just because Hitler used it does not mean it’s a sign of totalitarianism.”
However, not everyone was convinced.
In an opinion piece for Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, Częstochowa resident Pawel Krysiak argued that “the swastika will always be associated with genocide, not the Wizard of Oz.”
“In the autumn of 1942, the Nazis deported 40,000 people to the Treblinka death camp. This is what happened to people under the sign of the swastika. Częstochowa still lives in the shadow of this crime and we do not want to forget it.”
It remains unknown if local police will decide to open a criminal investigation. Meanwhile, the swastika remains.