Monday, February 19, 2018

Polish Jews stunned, scared by eruption of anti-Semitism

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https://finance.yahoo.com/news/polish-jews-stunned-scared-eruption-anti-semitism-125719594.html

Polish Jews stunned, scared by eruption of anti-Semitism

VANESSA GERA
WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Matylda Jonas-Kowalik has spent most of her 22 years secure in the belief that she would never know the discrimination, persecution or violence that killed or traumatized generations of Polish Jews before her. She once thought the biggest problem that young Jewish Poles like herself faced was finding a Jewish boyfriend or girlfriend in a country dominated by Catholics.
But an eruption of anti-Semitic comments in public debates amid a diplomatic dispute with Israel over a new Holocaust speech law has caused to her to rethink that certainty. Now she and others fear the hostile rhetoric could eventually trigger anti-Semitic violence, and she finds herself thinking constantly about whether she should leave Poland.
"This is my home. I have never lived anywhere else and wanted this to keep being my home," said Jonas-Kowalik, a Jewish studies major at Warsaw University. "But this makes me very anxious. I don't know what to expect."
Poland's Jewish community is the surviving remnant of a vibrant and diverse Polish- and Yiddish-speaking community that numbered 3.3 million on the eve of the Holocaust. Only 10 percent survived the German genocide, while postwar violence and persecution in the first decades of communist rule forced out many of the survivors.
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Matters escalated a few weeks ago when Israeli officials sharply criticized new Polish legislation that criminalizes blaming Poland as a nation for crimes committed by Nazi Germany. They accused Poland of seeking to use the law to whitewash the role of the Poles who helped Germans kill Jews during the war.
Polish authorities deny that. They say they just want to protect Poland from being depicted as a collaborator of the Nazis when the country was Adolf Hitler's first victim and resisted the Nazis through nearly six years of war and occupation.
Amid Israeli criticism, a prominent Polish right-wing commentator used an offensive slur to refer to Jews. Rather than being punished, he was welcomed on TV programs, including a state television talk show where he and the host made anti-Jewish comments, including jokes about Jews and gas chambers.
The negative comments just kept on coming. A Catholic priest said on state TV that it was hard to like Jews, and his words were then quoted by the ruling party spokeswoman. An adviser to the president said he thought Israel's negative reaction to the law stemmed from a "feeling of shame at the passivity of the Jews during the Holocaust."
Commentators have also suggested that opposition to the Holocaust law was a cover for Jews wanting money from Poland, a reference to reparations that international Jewish organizations seek for prewar Jewish property seized by the communists.
Anna Chipczynska, the head of Warsaw's Jewish community, said members feel psychologically shaken or even depressed, and that the hostile rhetoric has triggered hateful phone calls and emails and other harassment.
In recent events, two men tried to urinate in front of Warsaw's historic Nozyk Synagogue, and then shouted obscenities when security guards intervened. One Jewish community member found a Star of David hanging from gallows spray-painted outside a window of his apartment. A woman found the word "Zyd" — Polish for "Jew" — written in the snow outside her home.
Agnieszka Ziatek of the Jewish Agency for Israel said she has seen a spike in the number of Polish Jews inquiring about immigrating to Israel.
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