Jews in Poland joined in mourning the victims of a plane crash that took the lives of President Lech Kaczynski and dozens of other members of Poland’s leadership.
Memorial services were scheduled in synagogues in Warsaw and Krakow, and Jewish organizations and cultural centers canceled their programs during the week of national mourning declared by the government.
“In the face of an unimaginable tragedy we join the victims’ families and the whole country in grief and sorrow,” said Joachim Russek, director of the Judaica Foundation Center for Jewish Culture in Krakow.
Kaczynski was a staunch friend of Israel and actively supported Jewish causes in Poland. As mayor of Warsaw, he played a key role in the decision to found a Museum of the History of Polish Jewry, currently under construction on land donated by the city, and he was the honorary patron of the annual Festival of Jewish Culture in Krakow.
We have lost a friend,” Piotr Kadlcik, president of the Union of Polish Religious Communities, said.
Organizers of the March of the Living, scheduled to take place on Yom Hashoah, announced that Monday’s Holocaust remembrance program at Auschwitz would begin with a tribute to the fallen Polish president.
“While our program will go on in deference to the memories of the 6 million killed in Europe during the Holocaust, we are deeply saddened by this terrible loss to the Polish government and people,” said Shmuel Rosenman, chairman of the organization.
Israeli president Shimon Peres expressed “pain, shock and distress” in a statement released Saturday.
“In the many meetings I had with President Kaczynski, I discovered a great leader, determined to press his country forward, a man very much in touch with his people, and who had adopted the viewpoint of a democratic and advanced world,” Peres said.
“President Kaczynski and his wife did much to promote closer ties between the Polish and Jewish peoples, making a significant contribution to the healing process of the scars of the past and the building of a common better future. The bilateral ties between our two countries were strengthened during his presidency, distinguished by a spirit of friendship and warmth. The State of Israel bows its head, as it partakes in the deep sorrow of the Polish people on the occasion of their dreadful loss.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement released Saturday evening: “We share in the profound grief of the Polish people over the loss of President Kaczynski, his wife and all of the members of the Polish delegation. I knew President Kaczynski as a Polish patriot, as a great friend of Israel and as a leader who was very active on behalf of his people and for advancing peace and prosperity in the world. We recently met in Warsaw, in January of this year, within the framework of the events commemorating 65 years since the liberation of the Auschwitz camp and International Holocaust Day. President Kaczynski led an important process for opening a new page in relations between the Polish and Jewish people and developed Polish-Israeli relations.
The executive director of the American Jewish Committee, David Harris, issued a statement describing Kaczynski as a “dear and cherished friend.”
“President Kaczynski, whom we first met when he was the Mayor of Warsaw, was a devoted son of Poland, a courageous activist in the struggle against Communist occupation, a proud leader of today’s democratic Poland, and a proven friend of the United States and the transatlantic partnership,” Harris said. “Moreover, he was steadfastly devoted to writing a new chapter in the relationship between Poland and the Jewish people. He welcomed the renewal of Jewish life in Poland, was instrumental in the decision to build the Museum of the History of Polish Jews now being constructed in Warsaw, and was deeply committed to forging a strategic link between Poland and Israel.”