Poland Marks 60th Anniversary of Massacre

Washington Post, ABC News, and other publications

Tuesday, July 4, 2006

By Vanessa Gera, The Associated Press

Photo: A new abstract monument to 42 people murdered in the 1946 Kielce pogrom is unveiled by Warren Miller, left, chairman of the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad, and Kielce Mayor Wojciech Lubawski near the site of the killings in Kielce, Poland, Tuesday, July 4, 2006. Townspeople and security officers, spurred by a false rumor that Jews living at 7 Planty Street had kidnapped a Christian boy, attacked Jewish Holocaust survivors living in the building on July 4, 1946. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

KIELCE, Poland -- Sirens wailed and a rabbi led prayers in a Jewish cemetery Tuesday while Poland unveiled a monument to dozens killed by angry mobs in a rampage 60 years ago known as Europe's last pogrom.

President Lech Kaczynski marked the anniversary of the Kielce massacre, which left 42 people dead, by declaring in a statement that in Poland there is "no room for racism and anti-Semitism."

Poland's chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, led the Hebrew prayers little more than a month after he was attacked, though not injured, by a man linked to neo-Nazi groups who punched him the chest and sprayed him with pepper spray.

Police arrested the attacker last week, and the rabbi praised the president's stance. "He said exactly what he needed to say, that there is no place in Poland for anti-Semitism," Schudrich said.

The anniversary comes at a sensitive time politically for Poland - two months after the governing Law and Justice party formed a coalition with two small parties, including the League of Polish Families, a right-wing group rooted in a prewar anti-Semitic party.

That coalition deal sparked concerns within Poland's Jewish community that the new conservative government could encourage anti-Semitism, and the European Union also has criticized Poland for an alleged rise in intolerance.

"As the president of Poland, I want to say it loud and clear: what happened in Kielce 60 years ago was a crime," the president said in his statement. "This is a great shame and tragedy for the Poles and the Jews, so few of whom survived Hitler's Holocaust."

An aide read Kaczynski's remarks at the monument's unveiling, saying the president was ill and could not attend.

Kaczynski said Poland today puts a high priority on good relations with Jews and Israel. In a sharply worded passage, though, he said Poles should not be called anti-Jewish and said he "deplored" statements intended "to strengthen the stereotype of the Polish anti-Semite."

"We have numerous examples of Poles risking their lives in an attempt to save their Jewish fellow citizens from Nazi annihilation," Kaczynski said.

The massacre in Kielce came on July 4, 1946, when townspeople and police attacked the Jews of Kielce with guns and clubs little more than a year after the defeat of Nazi Germany.

The mob killed 42 people, mostly Jews, while about 30 more also were killed in a violent frenzy that spread across the area. The massacre set off a mass emigration of many of Poland's estimated 250,000 Jewish Holocaust survivors - those left from a prewar Jewish population of 3.5 million.

The violence broke out after a false report spread that a Christian boy had been kidnapped by Jews living at 7 Planty St. - the spot where the concrete monument was erected for the anniversary. It was unveiled at the end of the tree-lined street where most of the killings occurred.

The monument, about six feet high and 10 feet long, has the form of a toppled 7 - a reference to the address that was a center of the violence and the fact that the massacre fell in July, the seventh month of the year.

"It's on its side to signify the tragedy of the pogrom," said the artist, Jack Sal, a 52-year-old New Yorker.

Trailed by hundreds of people, dignitaries including Israel's ambassador and a representative from the U.S. Embassy walked along the street to lay wreaths in front of the three-story house. Next, they walked to the Jewish cemetery, where Schudrich prayed for the victims and read out their names in Hebrew at a plaque remembering them.

The Kielce massacre was largely a taboo subject during the communist era in Poland, but since the fall of communism in 1989, leaders have shown a willingness to grapple with it. The government issued an apology for the massacre a decade ago.

© 2006 The Associated Press

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