The recent NATO summit, held for the first time ever in Warsaw, was a triumph for Poland’s defense minister, Antoni Macierewicz.
The United States promised it would deploy American soldiers on Polish soil, near Russia’s border. Macierewicz shook hands with world leaders, including President Obama, who graced him with a smile. He won praise from Jarosław Kaczyński, leader of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party, whose authority over the government is seen as outranking even that of the prime minister and president.
For Macierewicz, it was the culmination of 27 years of hard work building up his image as a Pole standing strong against the Russian bear to the east. It’s a crowd-pleasing image in today’s populist right atmosphere, as is his insistence that Russia engineered the accidental plane crash of 2010 in which Poland’s then-president, Lech Kaczyński, died.
WATCH: Macierewicz’s Anti-Semitic Newspaper: A Video Sampler
(English captions explain the images, after a Polish video ad)
Several credible investigations have found no basis for this. But for NATO, in the wake of its summit, Macierewicz has emerged as the crucial point man on the alliance’s eastern flank, amid ramped-up tensions following Russia’s military incursions into Ukraine.
Yet Macierewicz has some secrets. For years he has been editor-in-chief, co-owner and author of the far-right newspaper Głos (Voice), which he also founded. It had few readers, so few took notice of its contents. And in recent years Macierewicz has kept quiet about his role there, as if wanting to keep it that way.
An examination of the publication during Macierewicz’s most active years as its chief suggests one reason why. In the issues from 1996 alone I found 43 anti-Semitic articles, some signed by Macierewicz himself.
After I wrote about this recently for the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyrborcza, where I am a columnist, even the Anti-Defamation League expressed concern.
This published record — which dates back at least two decades —presents Washington and other key members of the Western military alliance with an inconvenient possibility: that their man in Warsaw is at one and the same time indispensable in his official capacity and wholly unacceptable in his personal profile.
In February 1996, for example, Macierewicz wrote under his own byline about Dariusz Rosati — a Polish, formerly communist politician who asked Jews to forgive Poland for the 1946 Kielce pogrom that took place after the Nazis themselves had surrendered. Historians have found that non-Jewish Poles there killed more than 40 Holocaust survivors.
Macierewicz flailed Rosati’s apology, calling it “a brazen lie and a defamation to accuse the Polish people of the Kielce crime…. How does Mr. Rosati dare to say that Poles murdered Jews in July 1946 in Kielce?”
He added, “We have to create a National Tribunal at least in order to defend us against the defamers.”
Other articles that Macierewicz appears to have penned himself in the paper he owned and edited are signed with the initials “A. M.” or “AM.” No other author among Głos’ regular staff has these initials. One of these articles, in the issue of June 14, 1996, blames “Jewish circles” for the finding by historians across the spectrum that local Poles committed the Kielce murders. These Jews, states the article, “have spread this thesis for a long time, saying that even if the pogrom was incited by someone else, the Poles are to blame in the first place because they allowed themselves to be incited…. It’s a politics of lies.”
In a June 15, 1996 article entitled “Kwaśniewski is Afraid,” referring to Poland’s president at the time, “A.M.” asks accusingly, “Why are Jewish threats to harm the international interest of Poland treated with such respect?”
Macierewicz was not alone at Głos. Zdzisław Bradel, a Catholic poet and local politician, compared Jews to a stick beating the Polish flesh in the issue of April 24, 1996. In the July 1 issue he wrote that American Jews were financing Hitler and Nazi Germany in the 1930s.
In the issue of July 10, 1996, an article about the Kielce pogrom emphasized the presence of Jews in Poland’s communist secret service in the 1940s and 1950s in order to suggest that Jews were responsible for allowing the murders to happen, or for letting them go unpunished.
“It is indisputably certain that the communist secret services and militias didn’t stop the murders,” wrote author Wacław Zawidzki. “To the contrary, they organized them. So we have examined who occupied the highest places in their ranks.”
Zawidzki then offered a list of senior Polish intelligence officials, marking “of Jewish nationality” after every Jewish name.
Many Głos articles accuse Jews of conspiring against Poland even in the ’90s, albeit this time the plot is supposedly to take over Polish assets.
In the issue of March 15, 1996, Janusz Pałgan of Kielce wrote that Jews want “even our natural monuments,” citing Kadzielnia, a geological reserve.
And in an issue of August 1996, Witold Gadowski, now an important right-wing journalist, hints at an alleged Jewish plan to take over Polish houses and force Poles to live on the streets. Gadowski claims that a few Orthodox Jews who still live in Krakow want to take over Polish hospitals. And he notices that a “Colonel Strauss,” the former deputy police chief in charge of the Region of Krakow, is “strictly linked to the Jewish nationality,” adding, “You can see him in synagogue very often” — an apparent suggestion that Jews have infiltrated the local authorities.
One of Glos’ favorite targets in the 1990s, during Macierewicz’s active oversight of the paper, was President Alexander Kwaśniewski. As a former Communist who embraced the ideals of liberal democracy, and then became popular, he was detested by Polish right-wing extremists—in particular for his apology for the 1941 slaughter of at least 340 Polish Jews by non-Jewish neighbors at Jedwabne. According to the findings of the government’s Institute of National Remembrance, many were burned alive together in a barn.
Poles on the far right sought to discredit Kwaśniewski by “accusing” him (incorrectly) of Jewish descent. Thaddeus G. Kaminski, a Polish-American writer, suggested in Głos’ June 26, 1996 issue that the president’s father, a physician, was a Jew.
“He was the most famous abortionist in his area,” the writer added, a description with a powerful punch in heavily Catholic Poland. “He did it often and ineptly. More than once he punctured through his patients’ suteruses.”
For many readers, this, together with the abortionist tag for a purportedly Jewish doctor, conjures the medieval imagery of a Jewish blood libel.
Dr. Zdzisław Kwaśniewski was fired from his hospital because of his “lowest professional degree [but] refused to leave, saying that his dismissal was an act of anti-Semitism,” Kaminski added.
Głos headlines under Macierewicz also did yeoman’s service in spreading hatred of Jews. One story was bannered with three such headlines, blaring: “The Secretary of Jewish World Congress Announces Humiliations for Poland”; “French Jews Want To Fire the Primate Archbishop of Poland”; “The Israeli Embassy Forged a Letter….”
But for all this, Głos’s most powerful means of imprinting its ideas about the character of Jews in its readers’ minds were its illustrations.
In one we see an ugly Jew dressed in traditional ultra-Orthodox garb. He says to a barking dog, “We’ll put you to death for your anti-Semitism.” Another drawing depicts the bloody corpse of the French Jewish writer Roland Topor, who “has been killed by a Polish axe” (for his alleged lack of respect for Poland).
Many caricatures show Kwaśniewski with distorted features to make him look like a stereotypical Jew, with a prominent nose and ears. In one such drawing he gives a welcome to Michael Jackson, who used to visit Poland in the ’90s. Kwaśniewski says, “O King of Pop, you can feel at ease in my palace.” The singer replies: “But inside of me there is Negro blood. And what about you, Mr. President?” The meaning of this illustration seems twisted even to Poles. The only thing clear is, it’s racist.
A native of Warsaw, Macierewicz, who is 68, was born into a Catholic family; his father was a member of the Polish Resistance. Anti-Nazi and anti-Communist, Zdzisław Macierewicz was found dead in 1949, under mysterious circumstances, killed by the Communist political police — or by himself, to escape persecution.
From the 1960s through the 1980s, his son Antoni Macierewicz was a radical activist in anti-Communist movements including Solidarność. He first published Głos in 1977 as an illegal underground journal. In 1991, just two years after the fall of communism he became the minister of internal affairs.
But according to my review of Polish corporate registration records, Macierewicz continued to own Głos until at least 2009. He may still own it today, but this is hard to know because after 2009 the company ceased sending in the required registration reports.
Over the past 27 years Macierewicz has propounded a variety of anti-Poland conspiracy theories, with Russian spies and former Communists always in the background.
As a senior member of the hard right-wing Law and Justice Party, of which he now serves as deputy chairman, Macierewicz came into his post as defense minister with the party’s election last October. The party’s tenure has been a rocky one, marked by, among other things, the government’s effort to pack the country’s constitutional court, provoking widespread street protests.
The government has also signaled a determination to recast Polish history.
At a November 17 conference in the Presidential Palace, called by President Andrzej Duda, representatives from Polish museums and other cultural institutions were told to galvanize Polish nationalism and to discard narratives that brought Poland shame.
That same month, critics accused Macierewicz of anti-Semitism, shortly after his appointment as defense minister.
The Forward and other media cited 2002 remarks by Macierewicz about the infamous “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” a document forged in the 19th century by Russian police about a supposed Jewish plot to dominate the world. Asked about the Protocols back then on Radio Maryja, an ultra-Catholic, often anti-Semitic station, Macierewicz replied, “Experience shows that there are such groups in Jewish circles.” When foreign media reported the quote in 2015, Macierewicz’s press office said that the media had “manipulated” the minister’s words.
This time, his press office gave no explanations, On July 9, I published an article in Gazeta Wyborcza covering some of this same record of anti-Semitism. The minister’s office did not respond to requests for comment on this material. Nor did the office of Polish President Andrzej Duda.
Meanwhile, TV journalist Monika Olejnik recently asked the minister of education, Anna Zalewska, about the Kielce pogrom. Zalewska answered that the culprits were “not exactly Poles.” She also put in doubt that Poles killed Jews in Jedwabne in 1941.
In a statement to the Forward after being informed about these findings, U.S. Defense Department spokesperson Henrietta Levin, said, “While we are not in a position to comment on the specific publications in question, the Department of Defense strongly opposes anti-Semitism in all its forms, and works with its allies and partners to promote democratic values and human rights around the world.”
Jonathan Greenblatt, the national director and CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, told the Forward, “We’ve been disappointed at the lack of action and lack of remorse after we appealed to this government with our recent concerns about rising anti-Semitism.” The appeals, Greenblatt noted, date back to when the Law and Justice party formed its government in November and included concerns raised “specifically about incoming Defense Minister Macierewicz.”
More recently, on July 11, an ADL leadership delegation met in Warsaw with Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski, “and we had with us in the meeting a copy of the July 9-10 edition of Gazeta Wyborcza,” Greenblatt said — a reference to the edition with my recent expose about Macierewicz.
“The preamble to the NATO treaty notes that NATO members ‘are determined to safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilization of their peoples, founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law,’” Greenblatt’s statement noted. “Failure to combat anti-Semitism would violate that promise and be a moral failure for a NATO member state.”
An email to the American Jewish Committee, asking for comment on Macierewicz went unanswered by press time. But on May 10, the group, which has conducted extensive outreach to Poland’s government and civil society over many years, issued a press release that made no mention of anti-Semitism in the country after a two-day visit to Warsaw that included a meeting with Waszczykowski.
“In our various discussions…we heard repeated concerns about Russia’s regional aspirations, appreciation for strong ties with the U.S. and Israel, a commitment to strengthening Polish-Jewish relations, and excitement about the upcoming NATO Summit,” said AJC CEO David Harris in the release.
“This government is engaged in historical revisionism but is not anti-Israel,” explained Holocaust historian Michael Berenbaum, who has visited Poland frequently over many years. “So those organizations whose interest is encapsulated only in Israel have muted their voices because they don’t want to threaten support for Israel.”
Berenbaum, who was content designer for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, said he had encountered similar reticence among other Jewish groups.
“You have a situation where the interests of state of Israel and the Jewish people do not necessarily coincide,” he said.
Tomasz Piatek is a columnist for Gazeta Wyrborcza. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Larry Cohler-Esses contributed to this story.
Note:On July 26, following earlier publication of this article in the Forward’s print edition, the American Jewish Committee issued a statement that noted “recent and troubling developments” in Poland’s long-term effort to come to terms with “accounts of some local attacks on Jews — common to so much of Eastern Europe during the Holocaust” amid the “years of brutal occupation, millions of fatalities, and widespread destruction of its infrastructure” that Poland suffered under the Nazis.
Observing that these accounts “were not easily acknowledged by Poles,” the statement called on Polish leaders “to reconsider this direction and put Poland back on the path towards an honest confrontation with the dark chapters of its past.”
The statement made no direct mention of Macierewicz or the findings in this article.
Also subsequent to publication of this article in the Forward’s print edition, the press office of Polish President Andrzej Duda responded to the question it was asked about Macierewicz’s suitabilty to serve in high office under Duda with the following statement:
“A request for information about a situation must restrict itself to a situation existing on the day it is answered… Public information that may be requested must consist of objective data or facts. It cannot consist of opinions or moral evaluations. Taking these legal rules into account, your questions do not fall within the law on access to public information.”