AUSCHWITZ, POLAND -- The horror of the Holocaust, so evident here at the crematorium-cum-museum, has not touched the Polish soul. Even though 95 percent of those who died here were Jews, the word "Jew" does not appear on the death camp signs. Instead, they say, "Here four million people suffered and died at the hands of Nazi murderers."
Jews vehemently opposed a Carmelite convent built against the wall of Auschwitz in 1989, fearing it was another attempt to Christianize the place and erase the memory of the Jews who died here.
Poland was once a haven for Jews. Some 3.5 million lived here at the beginning of World War II. Today, there are fewer than 7,000 -- mostly elderly survivors of the Holocaust. Their average age is 70. Jewish leaders are considering a final evacuation of those who remain, for their own safety.
Poland is still not a safe place for Jews. Jewish cemeteries, long neglected, are being defaced with swastikas. Obscene slogans appear on the walls of Warsaw's Jewish State Theater. "Jews to the ovens."
The Rev. Stanislaw Musial is one of the Polish Catholic church's top experts on Jewish-Polish relations. He was candid and critical when we met with him recently near Krakow. "It was a terrible thing," he said. "Imagine 10 percent of the population murdered overnight in America. And yet here there is no feeling of a void today. I can tell you there has been no sorrow. It is because we lived not together but side by side."
Although it was the Germans who did the killing, and although many Polish Catholic priests paid with their lives when they stood up for the Jews, Musial suggested that Poland still needs a moral cleansing from its antisemitic roots and the Holocaust.
For centuries, Father Musial acknowledged, Catholic officials fostered outrageous stories about Jews. A huge painting called "Infanticida" still hangs in the 17th century church in Sandomierz depicting Jews dismembering Christian babies.
Between the two world wars, the Polish Catholic Church stoked antisemitism with right-wing rhetoric. One pastoral letter by the primate of Poland called Jews "the advance guard of a godless life, of the Bolshevik movement."
In the 1960s the Polish communist government sponsored an antisemitic campaign blaming Jews for the ills of the country and purging them from government jobs.
Father Musial is not surprised to see antisemitism whipped up in the current presidential campaign, which will culminate in an election Sunday. "It is very easy to say Jews are the hidden force who have the hidden plans that have ruined this country," he said.
Presidential candidate Lech Walesa is not antisemitic, but his campaign has attracted antisemites who see it as a rallying cry for the nation to become purely Polish and Catholic.
Nobel Prize winner Czeslaw Milosz, a Polish poet, has noted that the Polish spirit of heroic patriotism "cannot be separated from its less attractive features. A certain ethnocentric Poland, closed upon itself, hostile to any 'otherness,' is a historical fact."