Far-right Poles chant "Death to Jews" at symbolic book-burning, Nov. 11, 2021. (Screen grab/YouTube) (Screen grab/YouTube)
Polish book burning

Israeli and Polish authorities condemned the Independence Day event, which fell on same week as the anniversary of Kristallnacht.

By Pesach Benson, United With Israel

Polish and Israeli government officials condemned a far-right Polish Independence Day rally on Thursday that featured chants of “Death to Jews” and a symbolic book burning.

In the central city of Kalisz, far-right activist Wojciech Olszański burned a book symbolically representing the Statute of Kalisz. The document, issued in 1264 by Prince Bolesław the Pious, conferred the first legal rights for Jews living in Poland. The earliest Jews in Poland are believed to be refugees who fled Crusader massacres in the Rhineland.

In a video that circulated online, a person in the crowd held a sharp metal stick on which a book symbolizing the medieval document was impaled. As Olszański poured flammable liquid and set it alight, people in the crowd were heard chanting, “Death to Jews.”

Polish government officials, Catholic church leaders and other activists were quick to denounce the rally.

A spokesman for Poland’s Foreign Ministry said the Independence Day rally was “used to propagate hate, antisemitism and religious intolerance,” while Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski said he hoped that “the people who organized the shameful and scandalous assembly in Kalisz on November 11 will suffer legal consequences.”

Bishop Rafał Markowski, who chairs the Committee for Dialogue with Judaism of the Polish Bishops’ Conference, also voiced his condemnation, saying 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,” said the bishop.

A leader of of Poland’s Never Again anti-racism group told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the rally was a “scary and symbolically important event,” noting that it occurred on the same week Jews marked the anniversary of Nazi Germany’s Kristallnacht pogrom of 1938.

“Having monitored antisemitism for more than 25 years, I have never seen anything like that,” Pankowski told the JTA.

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

A larger, right-wing Independence Day rally was held in Warsaw, despite Mayor Rafał Trzaskowski’s unsuccessful efforts to ban it.

Poland’s relationship with Jews and the State of Israel have become fragile in recent years. In 2018, the Polish government passed a law making it a crime to blame the Holocaust on Poles. In August, it cut off restitution for Holocaust survivors and their descendants.

Of the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust, roughly half were Polish. Between 10,000 and 20,000 Jews are believed to live in Poland today.

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