Polish, Israeli governments condemn antisemitism at nationalist rally

March commemorating Poland’s independence featured hundreds of far-right activists shouting antisemitic slogans, including ‘Death to Jews,’ burning text on Jewish rights

People wave national flags of Poland during a march to mark Poland's National Independence Day on November 11, 2021 in Warsaw. (Adam Chelstowski / AFP)
People wave national flags of Poland during a march to mark Poland's National Independence Day on November 11, 2021 in Warsaw. (Adam Chelstowski / AFP)

WARSAW — Israeli and Polish government officials on Saturday condemned an antisemitic incident involving Polish nationalists chanting “Death to Jews” on Poland’s Independence Day this week.

Participants at the gathering also burned a copy of a medieval document that offered Jews protection and rights in Polish lands. The public expression of hatred occurred in the central Polish city of Kalisz on Thursday amid holiday celebrations across Poland.

The leaders of the event also referred to LGBT people and “Zionists” as “enemies of Poland” who need to be expelled.

Polish Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski said Saturday he hoped that “the people who organized the shameful and scandalous assembly in Kalisz on November 11 will suffer legal consequences.”

Foreign ministry spokesman Lukasz Jasina said Poland’s national holiday had been “used to propagate hate, antisemitism and religious intolerance.”

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid welcomed the “unequivocal condemnation” by Polish authorities and said Jewish people “expect the Polish government to act uncompromisingly against those who took part in this shocking display of hate.”

“The horrific antisemitic incident in Poland reminds every Jew in the world of the strength of hatred that exists in the world,” Lapid said.

Poland’s influential Catholic Church also also strongly condemned the outpouring of hatred.

Bishop Rafał Markowski, chairman of the Committee for Dialogue with Judaism of the Polish Bishops’ Conference, said that “such attitudes have nothing to do with patriotism.”

“They undermine the dignity of our brethren and destroy social order and peace. They are in direct contradiction to the Gospel and the teaching of the Church,” Markowski said.

Poland’s Independence Day celebrations have in recent years been overshadowed by events led by far-right groups.

The largest on Thursday was in Warsaw. The mayor tried to ban it, saying the capital city was no place for “fascist slogans.” He had court backing for the ban, but Poland’s right-wing government gave the march the status of a state ceremony, the latest example of the ruling nationalists seeking to curry favor with extreme groups.

Nationalist rally-goers burn a book representing a historic pact protecting the rights of Poland’s Jews in Kalisz, Poland, Nov. 11, 2021. (Screenshot from Karolina Pawliczak/Twitter)

Poland was for centuries one of the most welcoming European lands for Jews, with kings offering them protection after they fled persecution in German lands.

Poland’s Jewish community grew to become the largest in Europe in the 20th century, with some 3.3 million Jews living in the country on the eve of World War II. Most were murdered by Nazi Germany during the Holocaust. Today, the community is very small, numbering in the thousands.

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