WARSAW - Poland's most powerful politician on Monday denounced anti-Semitism and praised the "great" State of Israel at a ceremony honoring Poles who protected Jews during the Holocaust.
Jaroslaw Kaczynski, chief of the governing conservative Law and Justice party, spoke at an outdoor ceremony attended by Israeli, US and British officials and organized by From the Depths, a foundation established by descendants of Jewish Holocaust survivors.
In rare remarks on international relations, Kaczynski said Israel owes its existence to the "power of spirit, power of the mind, determination and courage" of its people. He denounced anti-Semitism as a "very dangerous" phenomenon that is expressed through hostility toward the country.
"In its way, in a real way, Israel is a great state," Kaczynski said, calling the Mideast country an "outpost of our civilization."
While Warsaw and Tel Aviv have strong ties, Kaczynski has faced pressure from Jewish communities in Poland and Europe to denounce what they see as a rise of anti-Semitism.
Monday's ceremony was held to recognize the heroism of Poles who saved Jews from the Nazis. From the Depths presented the Zabinski Awards, named for former Warsaw zoo director Jan Zabinski and his wife, Antonina, who hid over 300 Jews at the zoo during World War II.
Daniel Kawczynski, a Polish-born member of the British Parliament, accepted an award on his behalf of his great uncle. Jan Kawczynski was shot by the Germans in 1943 along with his wife, Helena, and their 10-year-old daughter Magdalena, for having sheltered Jews.
Franciscan nuns whose convent sheltered over 700 Jews in more than 40 orphanages in Poland also received an award. One of the people the nuns' order helped save, Zipi Kamon, came from Israel to attend the ceremony.
Most of Poland's pre-war population of some 3.5 million Jews perished in the Holocaust. Poland was the only country occupied by the Nazis where any form of aiding Jews was punishable by immediate execution.