Polish Jews stunned, scared by eruption of anti-Semitism
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.
Since communism’s collapse in 1989, Jewish life has been re-emerging, with young people feeling safe enough in Poland’s democracy to embrace a heritage their parents and grandparents had largely repressed.
Yet anxieties have been creeping in amid a global rise in xenophobia that was also felt in Poland.
A conservative party, Law and Justice, won power in Poland vowing to restore national greatness while also stressing an anti-Muslim, anti-migrant message. Jews — whose presence in Poland goes back centuries — were increasingly the targets of verbal hate on social media.
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.
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