From the shady unveiling of an infamous blood libel painting that could only perhaps be excused in the name of art, to far more egregious transgressions against not just the Jewish community but any veteran and survivor of the Second World War, the Eastern European nation and prominent perpetrator of crimes against humanity, Poland, has done it again — and again and again and again.
A few days ago, it was decided that an appropriate commemoration for the Catholic Church’s International Day of Judaism (which will be tomorrow) would be the unveiling of an anti-Semitic 18th century painting showing Jews murdering Christian children. Ostensibly this was in order to make matzah with the blood or drink it. For obvious reasons, the painting, hung on a wall in the Sandomierz Cathedral in southeast Poland, was hidden behind a curtain for the past decade. Regardless of the motive — which in this case was to “clarify the dark history of anti-Semitism” — this was either a criminally inappropriate and inopportune oversight, or a renewal of the concentrated effort of the Polish Catholic Church against Jews. While the painting is to be accompanied by a shiny plaque clarifying that Jews did not, in fact, commit ritual murder because Judaism forbids such actions, the wording implies that if not for the irksome commandment, Jews would have committed such crimes. For reasons generally incomprehensible, the chief rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich supported the unveiling, saying that it could serve as a way to debunk myths; however, it seems that all the painting has done is needlessly remind the Catholic populace of the still widely-held belief.
This month, Poland’s government opposition came under fire from the Jewish and international community for introducing a bill to ban the term “Polish death camp,” the use of which would be punishable to a jail term of up to five years. This bill, ostensibly, seeks to “correct” the “erroneous term” — to shift the impression that Poland bore any responsibility for the Holocaust death camps on Polish soil. To those who take into account Poland’s history, the bill would appear to erase the connection between Poland and its memorable collaboration with Nazi German occupiers, and the moral responsibilities that followed.
Most recently, in an incident illustrating the dangerous duality of the Polish brand of anti-Semitism — that is, institutional and personal — struck the nation’s judicial system. Last September, Lech Poznan fans chanted “we’ll send you [Jews] to the gas chambers” and “your home is Auschwitz” while waving flags with Nazi symbols during a Polish League soccer match against Widzew Lodz, a team long considered connected to the Jewish community, since before the Holocaust. The enlightened municipal prosecutor trying the case, Monka Rutkowsk, ruled that “Jews to the gas chambers” was in fact not a racist chant and did not constitute any criminal offense. Her reasoning (according to the International Business Times): “the slurs targeted opposing players and not Jews specifically, adding they came in a sports event rather than a social or political discussion.”
For the past year, kosher slaughter has been banned in Poland, mandating that all animals must be stunned before slaughter (whereas Jewish law states that the animal must be killed with a single incision to the neck). The law was passed supposedly on the basis of animal rights; although the issue is hotly contested, there is evidence that, if performed properly, kosher slaughter actually minimizes the pain and suffering of the animals.
The list of anti-Semitic patterns in Poland could go on; but altogether the list is limitless — to compile a compendium of Poland’s (and, not just by extension, the Polish people’s) crimes against the memory of the victims of the Holocaust and against those who survived it would be ultimately useless. An article is not enough to discuss why the Poles hate the Jews, or whence this honorable tradition of Jew-hatred came about — indeed an entire book might not do the subject justice. It is enough to know that no one harbors any illusions that Eastern Europe has undergone some kind of great, progressive change.
Former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir — whose father, after escaping a German train transporting Jews to the extermination camps, was killed by two Polish childhood friends, and whose mothers and sisters died at Auschwitz (Oświęcim) — made a typically prescient comment while visiting Poland. As pessimistic as this final pronouncement seems, Shamir, well-known for his bitter realism, said it best: “Poles suck anti-Semitism with their mothers’ milk. This is something that is deeply imbued in their tradition, their mentality. Like their loathing of Russia. The two things are not connected, of course. But that, too, is something very deep, like their hatred of Am Yisrael.”