The discussions, which were held in a new glorious church opposite a black wall bearing the names of 1,170 “Poles who saved Jews” (most of whom have not been included in the Righteous Among the Nations list), were kicked off by the event’s main organizer, Father Tadeusz Rydzyk. Rydzyk’s media outlets were known in the past for the freedom of speech they provided to traditional Catholic anti-Semitism.
The conference’s guest of honor was Polish Prime Minister Beata Maria Szydło, who said: “From now on, the world will know the truth about the extent of aid Jews received from Poles.”
Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of the nationalistic ruling party, Law and Justice, addressed the conference attendees in a letter. “The social depiction of the assistance provided by Poles to Jews during World War II is still falsified for various reasons. This has happened, to a great extent, due to the pedagogy of shame by the Polish establishment and the anti-histological policy resulting from it… We have come to fix the picture,” he wrote. After all, the Poles have nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to their conduct towards the Jews. Absolutely nothing.
Israel was represented in the conference by Communications Minister Ayoob Kara and Deputy Knesset Speaker Hilik Bar, who both addressed the attendees.
Kara wrote on his Facebook page: “Today I spoke at a special conference on Polish soil in memory of the victims of the Holocaust.” The minister was wrong, or perhaps misled. The only purpose of the conference he participated in was political: To legitimize the rewriting of history by the Law and Justice party, a rewriting aimed at proving that not only didn’t the Poles turn in Jews during World War II and stand idly by while the Holocaust was going on, but that they actually rescued hundreds of thousands of Jews.
This rescue, which has been duplicated and inflated to groundless dimensions without any factual basis, is being used as a propaganda hatchet to promote Law and Justice’s populist-nationalist ideology. The Polish nation believes it offered the persecuted Jews shelter while courageously fighting the German occupier (“They weren’t Nazis,” Deputy Prime Minister Mateusz Jakub Morawiecki has said, “they were Germans”) and against the Soviet occupier. Anyone who opposes the distortions and distorters is dismissed: The Law and Justice government regularly replaces museum and research institute managers.
The Toruń conference was convened to give that new “historical politics” a research and Jewish-Israeli seal of approval. To understand its absurd nature, it’s important to mention that since the establishment of democratic Poland, Father Rydzyk’s radio (Radio Maryja) and television (Tarwam) stations had served as popular tools for expressing anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia.
Only recently, Rydzyk’s association made a shift from manifestations of anti-Semitism to displays against Islam. Rydzyk even established, through a dubious middleman, what he defines as “warm relations” with official Israeli representatives. Quite a few of the participants in the “Memory and Hope” conference are—like him—people with an anti-Semitic background who changed their stripes, or who say they changed their stripes.
The leading Jewish figure at the conference—alongside a few rabbis—was British Haredi activist and businessman Jonny Daniels, who immigrated to Israel, served as an advisor to different politicians (many were deceived by his charm) and later went to Poland, where he serves as an ambassador on behalf of himself of Judaism and Israeliness. Daniels established a foundation called From the Depths to commemorate the Polish assistance to Jews during the Holocaust, which fosters bold ties with senior Law and Justice members and with Rydzyk and his gang. “We must all do more for the Polish heroes who saved the Jews,” Daniels said at the conference.
I fail to understand the active participation of a minister and a Knesset member from Israel in a conference aimed at distorting the memory of the Holocaust and legitimizing Poland’s racist-nationalist (and anti-Semitic, despite all its denials) right. As an Israeli who came from Poland, I feel outraged and embarrassed by this.