Speaking at a famous monument to the 1944 Warsaw uprising on Thursday, President Trump spoke of some of the horrors experienced by the country's Jewish population during the 20th century, making direct reference not only to the Holocaust but also the Warsaw Ghetto and the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising specifically.
“A vibrant Jewish population — the largest in Europe — was reduced to almost nothing after the Nazis systematically murdered millions of Poland’s Jewish citizens, along with countless others, during that brutal occupation,” Trump said during his speech at Krasinski Square.
However, while he acknowledged the horrors of the Warsaw Ghetto's history, Trump also made his own history during his trip to Poland — becoming the first U.S. president to visit the Polish capital and not visit the site of the Warsaw Ghetto since the fall of Communism.
In a statement released Wednesday, Jewish community leaders expressed regret that the U.S. president would not be visiting the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes.
“Ever since the fall of Communism in 1989, all U.S. presidents and vice-presidents visiting Warsaw had made a point of visiting the Monument to the Heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto,” the statement read. “They did this in the name of the American people, who had played such a central role in bringing down fascism, and in that of the universal commemoration of the victims of the Shoah, and condemnation of its perpetrators, that people of all nationalities and religions express.”
The statement — signed by Anna Chipczynska, president of the Jewish Community of Warsaw, Lesław Piszewski, president of the Union of the Jewish Communities in Poland, and Michael Schudrich, the chief rabbi of Poland — noted that Trump was speaking nearby. “We deeply regret that President Donald Trump, though speaking in public barely a mile away from the Monument, chose to break with that laudable tradition,” it concluded. “We trust that this slight does not reflect the attitudes and feelings of the American people.”
Presidential records and news reports show that every president since 1989 had visited the Warsaw Ghetto on their first state visit to Poland. President George H.W. Bush had been the first to visit the site in July 1989, when he attended a wreath-laying ceremony during a two-day trip to Poland just months after communism ended in the country. President Bill Clinton attended ceremonies commemorating the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in July 1994. President George W. Bush laid a wreath at the ghetto when he visited in 2001, as did President Barack Obama in 2011.
President Jimmy Carter also visited the monument in 1977, while Richard M. Nixon visited in 1959 while he was vice president, though he does not appear to have revisited the site during a presidential visit in 1972. President Gerald R. Ford visited Poland in 1975 but is not recorded as having visited the site. All other post-war presidents did not visit Poland during their time in office.
The Warsaw Ghetto was the largest Jewish ghetto in all of Nazi-occupied Europe. During the uprising of 1943, Jewish insurgents fought a dramatic uprising against their German guards. Despite being outnumbered and outgunned, they were able to hold out for a month in one of the most remarkable revolts against Nazi Germany during the war. The event presaged the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, a larger citywide revolt and the subject of the monument near which Trump gave his speech Thursday.
The Holocaust remains a difficult subject in Poland. More than 3 million Jews were killed during the Nazi occupation, decimating the country's Jewish community. It recent years, the country has grappled with the extent to which Polish citizens played a role in helping their German occupiers, with some historians suggesting that Poles had played a far greater role than many modern politicians acknowledge.
Trump was in Poland for less than 24 hours, which may have made timing for a visit to the ghetto difficult. Though the president did not visit the site, his daughter Ivanka Trump — a convert to Judaism — visited Thursday afternoon to lay a wreath. In a statement released on her Facebook page, Trump called her visit a “deeply moving experience” and “a privilege.”
Despite the president's close ties to his Jewish relatives, the Trump administration has been accused at several points of not paying sufficient attention to anti-Semitism. Within days of entering office, the president was criticized for releasing a statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day that omitted any mention of Jews. However, the president also enjoys close relations with Israel and he became the first sitting U.S. leader to visit the Western Wall in Jerusalem in May.
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