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Sunday, July 9, 2006

Anti-Semitism in Poland

Elie Wiesel's remarks on Jan T. Gross's new book, Fear: Anti-Semitism in Poland After Auschwitz (Book World, June 25), have prompted an intensive discussion in the Polish media. Among the many voices weighing in was that of Adam Michnik, editor in chief of the influential Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza and a leading dissident in the past. I would like to quote a fragment of his article:

"Wiesel's review conveys the image of a country [Poland] unable to confront the plague of anti-Semitism. Several years ago, following the publication of Gross's book Neighbors about the destruction of a Jewish community in Jedwabne, Poland became the stage of a broad debate that was ignored neither by the Polish president nor the primate of the country's Catholic Church. There is probably no other country in East Central Europe that accounted for the dark chapters of its own history with such seriousness and honesty. That debate was as important as the publication of Gross's book. . . . Anyone who writes about anti-Semitism in Poland and ignores those facts, falsifies -- even if unintentionally -- the truth about Poland."

The debate that Michnik refers to has played a meaningful role in defining Poland's new identity as a democratic and modern nation that considers reconciliation with the Jewish people as its priority. In fact, even skeptics admit that Polish-Jewish dialogue has created a great deal of positive change and helped reconstitute a small but vibrant Jewish community in my country. It has also been instrumental in fostering close ties and friendship between Poland and the state of Israel.

To make it clear: The debate on Polish-Jewish relations will continue to be difficult, sometimes even painful. Gross's new book is likely to make a significant impact on it. However, there are at least two important conditions necessary to make this discussion effective. First, it would be unfortunate if instead of inspiring discussion about the historical ramifications of Polish-Jewish relations, Gross's book were misinterpreted to reinforce existing stereotypes and prejudices. Second, while probing history, we should strive to build a better future in the relations between Poles and Jews. I am convinced that this goal can and will be achieved, for the benefit of both nations.

JANUSZ REITER

Ambassador of Poland

Washington, D.C.

I know of no more eloquent or passionate writer than Elie Wiesel, and his review of Jan T. Gross's new Fear exemplifies his excellence of expression. In a relatively brief commentary, Wiesel does a laudable job of outlining for Americans the mostly unknown post-World War II history of Kielce, the site of a 1946 pogrom. However, it is not his account of the genocidal murder of the barely surviving Jewish remnant that is most frightening but his description in his first paragraph of "virulent, deplorable -- essentially antisemitic -- attacks" in the Polish press following Wiesel's 1996 speech commemorating the 50th anniversary of Kielce.


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