Poland Poll Reveals Stubborn Anti-Semitism Amid Jewish Revival Hopes

63% See Jewish Conspiracies and Back Old Canards

Stubborn Hate: Decades after the Holocaust, many Poles hold strongly anti-Semitic views, a new poll shows.
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Stubborn Hate: Decades after the Holocaust, many Poles hold strongly anti-Semitic views, a new poll shows.

By Don Snyder

Published January 18, 2014.
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Arciszewska-Mielewczyk’s remarks reflect a belief common in Poland that Israel’s national legislature represents all Jews.

Geographically, the new study’s findings suggest that the provinces of Lublin and Lodz in southeastern Poland are the most anti-Semitic regions of the country. This is where the largest Jewish communities existed before the war, and where the ruins of many synagogues still stand, though virtually no Jews live there today.

“It’s worse there than in the western parts of Poland,” Bilewicz told the Forward in a telephone interview.

Bilewicz noted that hundreds of cemeteries in this region of Poland have been desecrated and proposed that the high level of anti-Semitism in this part of Poland helped explain why — a kind of anti-Semitism without Jews.

“We know that it is based on a very deep anti-Semitism that is so embedded in people’s minds that they don’t consider it problematic,” he said.

Before the Holocaust there were 3.2 million Jews in Poland, compared with an estimated 10,000 Jews today.

According to Zuzanna Radzik, a devout Catholic who supervises the School of Dialogue, a program that seeks to recapture the lost history of the Jewish presence in Poland, the biggest news in the center’s survey was the increase in traditional anti-Semitism. She believes it’s always existed, but that Poles now feel more comfortable expressing it.

Poland’s archly conservative Roman Catholic Church has historically been blamed for perpetuating traditional forms of anti-Semitism. Bilewicz’s study, however, finds that anti-Semitism is equally common among believers and those who are not religious. Furthermore, church attendance has declined slightly between 2009 and 2013, a period during which the proportion of people holding traditional anti-Semitic beliefs has risen.

Professor Joanna Tokarska-Bakir, a cultural anthropologist at the Polish Academy of Sciences, who has been investigating the persistence of blood libel beliefs in eastern Poland, argued that the Church nevertheless continues to play a key role. In an email to the Forward, Tokarska-Bakir contended that in school, where Catholic religious classes were reinstituted after the fall of Communism in 1989, students are exposed to lessons that are permeated with anti-Semitic themes.

Despite these high levels of anti-Semitism, there are signs of hope.

The official opening of the new Museum of the History of Polish Jews is scheduled for September 2014. The City of Warsaw and the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage financed its construction. The museum’s exhibits show the Jewish contributions to Polish life during the more than 1,000 years that Jews have lived in Poland. Workshops for students are already underway.

Radzik’s School of Dialogue also seeks to recover Poland’s Jewish past. It deploys educators throughout Poland to make students aware of the places in their towns where Jews once lived and worked, and where there were synagogues and mikvehs. The school also teaches young Poles about Judaism.

The opening of a new Jewish Community Center in Warsaw last October was another step toward the revival of Jewish life in Poland.

Contact Don Snyder at feedback@forward.com


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