Poland opens hate crime probe into beating, burning of Jewish effigy

Video of anti-Semitic Easter revival in which kids take sticks to Judas doll sparks outrage among both Poles and Jews; minister calls ritual ‘idiotic, pseudo-religious chutzpah’

Children using sticks to beat an effigy of Judas on Good Friday, April 19, 2019, in the town of Pruchnik, Poland. (Hubert Lewkowicz / AFP)
Children using sticks to beat an effigy of Judas on Good Friday, April 19, 2019, in the town of Pruchnik, Poland. (Hubert Lewkowicz / AFP)

The attorney general in the Polish province of Jaroslaw has reportedly opened a criminal investigation into an anti-Semitic ritual enacted over the Easter holiday that involved an effigy of Judas represented by a stereotypical Jew being hanged, beaten and set alight.

Residents, among them children, took sticks to the effigy in Pruchnik, a small town in southeast Poland, on Good Friday and then burned it. The figure depicted with a hooked nose, black hat and sidecurls typical of ultra-Orthodox Jews, represented Judas, the disciple of Christ who betrayed him according to the New Testament.

“Based on the videos I’ve seen, I decided there is basis to open an investigation on suspicion that a hate crime occurred there,” Agnieszka Kaczorowska told Israel’s public broadcaster Kan on Tuesday.

Kaczorowska said prosecutors were gathering evidence from the videos of the ritual uploaded online, and were working to identify those involved. She said her office would also investigate the children’s role, and whether their parents instructed them to beat the doll.

The Easter ritual known as “Judgment over Judas” dates back to the 18th century and continued to be regularly performed until the Second World War.

The tradition had been largely abandoned, with only a couple of villages continuing it. Even Pruchnik had appeared to stop in recent years, according to the Polish news portal

The ritual drew widespread condemnation including from the Polish government and Catholic Church.

An effigy of Judas on Good Friday, hanging in the town of Pruchnik, on April 19, 2019, in southern Poland. (Hubert Lewkowicz / AFP)

“The Catholic Church will never tolerate manifestations of contempt towards members of any nation, including the Jewish people,” Bishop Rafal Markowski, chairman of the church’s Committee for Dialogue with Judaism, said, describing his view as the church’s position.

After the church statement, Interior Minister Joachim Brudzinski called the ritual “idiotic, pseudo-religious chutzpah” and asked why “Satans” revived the abandoned tradition.

The statements came after the World Jewish Congress on Sunday expressed its “disgust and outrage.”

“Jews are deeply disturbed by this ghastly revival of medieval anti-Semitism that led to unimaginable violence and suffering,” Robert Singer, CEO of the New York-based group, said.

Poles also expressed their disgust at the revival of the anti-Semitic ritual. Some posted photos online of the same ritual being carried out before World War II.

For centuries, the Catholic church taught that Jews killed Christ, a position that fomented centuries of hatred and violence against the Jewish communities in Europe. This position was rescinded by the Second Vatican Council’s revolutionary 1965 document on non- Christian religions, Nostra Aetate (In Our Times).

A leading church figure who opposed anti-Semitism in the church was the Polish pope, John Paul II, who considered Jews to be Christians’ “elder brothers” in the faith.

“One can only wonder how John Paul II who taught Catholics in his native Poland and all over the world that anti-Semitism is a sin against God and man would have reacted to this flagrant rejection of his teachings,” Singer said.

The ritual comes after a diplomatic crisis last year between Poland and Israel sparked anti-Jewish sentiment in Poland as well as anti-Polish feeling in Israel.

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