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Polish president denounces antisemitism at nationalist rally as ‘treason’

In latest condemnation of last week’s chanting of ‘Death to Jews,’ Andrzej Duda says incident was ‘barbarism,’ goes against Poland’s values

Poland's President Andrzej Duda speaks during a news conference following his meeting with his Lithuanian counterpart at the Presidential Palace in Vilnius, Lithuania, October 19, 2021. (Mindaugas Kulbis/AP)
Poland's President Andrzej Duda speaks during a news conference following his meeting with his Lithuanian counterpart at the Presidential Palace in Vilnius, Lithuania, October 19, 2021. (Mindaugas Kulbis/AP)

Polish President Andrzej Duda on Sunday denounced displays of antisemitism at a nationalist rally last week on Poland’s Independence Day that included chants of “Death to Jews” and a symbolic burning of a historical text on Jewish rights.

His remarks joined those of Israeli and Polish government officials who have slammed the public expression of hatred to Jews that occurred in the central Polish city of Kalisz on Thursday amid holiday celebrations across Poland.

“The barbarism carried out by a group of hooligans in Kalisz is contrary to the values on which the Republic of Poland is based,” Duda wrote on his Twitter account.

Noting the current crisis on Poland’s border with Belarus, Duda added that the acts were “even an act of treason.”

Participants at the gathering burned a copy of a medieval document that offered Jews protection and rights in Polish lands. The leaders of the event also referred to the LGBT community and Zionists as “enemies of Poland” who need to be expelled.

Polish Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski said Saturday that he hoped “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 strongly condemned the outpouring of hatred.

Independence Day celebrations in Poland 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 extremist groups.

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.

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’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.

Israel has accused Poland of taking an antisemitic stance over Holocaust restitution over a new law that will effectively prevent Jewish heirs of property seized by the Nazis during World War II from reclaiming it.

In response to the passing of the law in August, Israel recalled its charge d’affaires from Poland and told the Polish envoy to the Jewish state, who was vacationing in Poland, to not bother coming back.

Lapid at the time called the law “antisemitic and immoral.”

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