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July 29, 2016

Poland: Revisionism, Remembrance, Revival

“…the memories will stay with me long into the future.”

By Jonathan Green­blatt
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League

The 75th Anniversary Commemoration of the Polish Pogrom at Jedwabne

The 75th Anniversary Commemoration of the Polish Pogrom at Jedwabne

In the closing days of my first year on the job as ADL CEO, I selected Poland as the site for my first international ADL leadership mission. Historical events in Poland will forever anchor the country to ADL’s founding purpose — to protect the Jewish people. And contemporary developments give us cause for new concern.

A small group of ADL’s top national leadership joined me on this trip, including National Chair Marvin Nathan, to pursue three goals: (1) to demonstrate solidarity with the Polish Jewish community in the face of increasing Holocaust revisionism and anti-Semitic political speech, (2) to commemorate victims of anti-Semitism, and (3) to witness the inspiring revival of Jewish life in Poland. This was my first visit to Poland – and the memories will stay with me long into the future.

Jedwabne

The urgency of the first goal became even most apparent the day after our visit concluded, when Poland’s Education Minister Anna Zalewska repeatedly refused to acknowledge during a televised interview that Polish citizens were responsible for killing their Jewish neighbors during anti-Semitic pogroms in Jedwabne and Kielce during and after World War II.  The controversy was the top story in the Polish press.

The ADL delegation had attended the 75th anniversary commemoration of the Jedwabne massacre just days earlier. Together with Poland’s Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich, leaders of the Polish Jewish community, and painfully few others, we mourned the hundreds of Jews, murdered by their Polish Catholic neighbors on July 10, 1941, while the town was under Nazi occupation. Most of the Jews were forced into a barn, which was then set on fire.

At the Jedwabne memorial with ADL National Chair Marvin Nathan

At the Jedwabne memorial with ADL National Chair Marvin Nathan

The events of the Jedwabne pogrom were largely unknown until 2001. While centrist Polish leaders have apologized to the Jewish community for the massacre, Polish nationalists have rejected Polish responsibility. They contend that accusations of Polish responsibility are smears against Poland’s reputation. The recent rise of the far-right in Poland led to the election in October 2015 of the Law and Justice party, some of whose government ministers had caused us deep concern, even before Education Minister Zalewska’s comments.

While the small Jewish community in Poland has suffered very few anti-Semitic incidents, the political atmosphere has noticeably changed in Poland with increasing anti-Semitic rhetoric on the far-right.  The controversy over Jedwabne is its symbol.  The week we were there a major news magazine, W Siece, put on its cover a burning barn and the headline, “Jedwabne: We need to investigate anew.”

Polish Paper

Speaking at the Jedwabne commemoration, in front of a small memorial on the site of the barn, moved me as much as anything else I have done in my first year at ADL. It was an incredibly powerful moment. I pledged on behalf of ADL to remember the victims, to protect that memory from distortion by those who would re-write history for their own political purposes, and to stand in solidarity with the current Jewish community against the challenges they face.

Speaking at the Jedwabne commemoration, July 10

Speaking at the Jedwabne commemoration, July 10

The next day we met with government leaders, including Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski, and told them directly of our concerns. We expressed appreciation for President Andrzej Duda’s remarks at the commemoration of the Kielce pogrom, where he said “there is no room for anti-Semitism” in Poland and acknowledged that “ordinary [Polish] people were involved in the attack.”  But, we noted that no senior government official had condemned the burning of an effigy of a Hassidic Jew at a far-right demonstration just weeks after Law and Justice came to power.  We were disappointed in Foreign Minister Waszczykowski’s dismissive attitude toward the issue.

The ADL delegation meeting with Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski and ministry officials

The ADL delegation meeting with Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski and ministry officials

We reminded Minister Waszczykowski that ADL has been a leading voice against the defamatory phrase “Polish death camps” (which should be “Nazi death camps”), and we expected Poland’s leaders to speak out against anti-Semitic rhetoric or incidents to demonstrate that anti-Semitism is unacceptable in Poland.  Given the pervasive belief in Jewish stereotypes among the Polish public, as shown in ADL’s Global 100 survey, we underscored the importance of such condemnations.  From the Foreign Ministry, we left for Krakow and our visit the following day to Auschwitz.

Auschwitz

At Auschwitz, after a long tour of horrors, we stood in front of a pit where ashes from the crematoria were dumped by the Nazis as they implemented the Final Solution. We said Kaddish, but nothing else other than silence seemed appropriate. No other moment in the past year has so viscerally reinforced my commitment to ADL’s mission.

The ash pit and a destroyed crematorium at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Past National Chair Glen Lewy and National Commissioner Michael Sheetz.

The ash pit and a destroyed crematorium at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Past National Chair Glen Lewy and National Commissioner Michael Sheetz.

ADL’s education programs present our Pyramid of Hate with genocide at its apex. I had just seen another pyramid of hate, a mountain of shoes taken from thousands of Jews murdered over the course of just a few hours.

Shoe Exhibit - Poland

ADL National Chair Marvin Nathan at the shoe exhibit in Auschwitz

ADL National Chair Marvin Nathan at the shoe exhibit in Auschwitz

Pondering a cattle car at Auschwitz-Birkenau, I thought about Elie Wiesel, the unsurpassed master of bearing witness, who must have arrived at this spot in one just like it.  His passing on July 2 bereaved us all.

ADL delegation at Auschwitz-Birkenau in front of a cattle car used for deportations.

ADL delegation at Auschwitz-Birkenau in front of a cattle car used for deportations.

Krakow

The Jewish Community Center of Krakow is an hour from Auschwitz by car and couldn’t be farther by nature. The JCC is a scene of Jewish revival and of optimism. Jewish identity is celebrated, and young Poles with Jewish roots are affiliating with their heritage. Under the impressive leadership of its Executive Director Jonathan Ornstein, the JCC offers opportunities for all to connect, to learn, and to create community.

JCC-Poland

Over a delightful dinner, the ADL delegation heard from young men and women who are intent on rebuilding Krakow’s Jewish community.  The food itself – homemade, fresh and kosher – symbolized the community’s ethos of renewal. But their words made an even deeper impression on our group.  Though the community is very small, their sense of commitment bodes well for the future.

JCC-Poland-2

ADL’s Continuing Mission

Krakow is the home to the Jewish Culture Festival, attended by 20,000 people each year, and we saw minimal security at Jewish institutions in the city.  However, we know Krakow is not an oasis devoid of anti-Semitism. ADL can support the development of these small communities in Krakow, Warsaw, and elsewhere in Poland by keeping up the pressure on elected officials, law enforcement, and civil society leaders to speak out against anti-Semitism, to take legal action when appropriate, and in general to make clear to the Jewish community that they are equal members of Polish society, entitled to the same protections and respect as all other Polish citizens.

Through our regular conversations with leaders of the Polish Jewish community and with anti-racism watchdogs like the NEVER AGAIN Association, ADL can respond to concerns in solidarity and cooperation.  On this leadership mission, ADL’s leaders and local community leaders faced challenging issues together and at the end raised glasses l’chaim, to life. It should always be so.

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July 13, 2016

Pokemon GO, A Popular Game with Some Troubling Consequences

pokemonThe Pokémon GO app is a hybrid virtual and real world game.  The game’s objective is to use a smartphone to find, see and capture/collect virtual Pokémon characters. Many players find the game highly engaging, entertaining and even addictive. Pokémon characters are apparently randomly distributed on the game’s map, but can also be collected at “Pokestops,” locations in the real world based on points of interest as identified on Google maps. Players can also create “gymnasiums” and “lures,” which are typically at  public places like parks, post offices and museums, but these gymnasiums may potentially be created in places like memorials, churches, temples, mosques, synagogues, and schools where playing the game is inappropriate or offensive.  Players tend to congregate where Pokémon characters can be collected and they can interact with other players.  Like Google’s points of interest, the location of Pokestops is not always precisely accurate.  So, for example, a Pokestop based on a Google map point of interest may be located in front of a religious institution, but the Pokemon character may be viewable on a smartphone used inside the building. ADL has received reports that Pokémon characters have appeared on phones inside the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, outside synagogues, at Auschwitz and at other locations where playing a game is disrespectful if not offensive.  The game is software-driven, and it is reasonable to assume the characters are not placed in such locations with any malicious intent.  It is likely that the appearance of Pokemon characters at the Holocaust Museum and at Auschwitz is an unintended consequence of the technology driving the app.  Once they learned of it, the authorities at Auschwitz were right to tell people they cannot play the game there. Even though we do not believe the app’s developers deliberately chose inappropriate settings for the game, we would urge them to explore the possibility of taking steps proactively to restrict areas which are likely to cause offense, and to prevent the characters for appearing in or near them.  In the meantime, people who encounter offensive Pokestops can visit the app’s support page, which provides information about reporting a problem with a gym or Pokestop.  There is no clear way to request that a location be removed, but there is a choice that says “dangerous Pokestop/gym” on the “reasons” drop-down menu.  One should be able to succinctly provide as much detail as possible there, but at this time, it is unclear how effective this process will be. While removing problematic locations would be welcome, there are also some broader societal concerns regarding Pokemon GO.  For example, there are risks related to game players who are distracted while moving around.  It may also be problematic that by playing the game, the player reveals his or her physical location at any given time to the developer.  While the game itself does not pose any inherent threat, it does raise questions of personal safety and security for players who do not show good judgment.  Parents in particular should understand that playing the game could pose some safety risks for their children.

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February 5, 2015

Lo que aprendimos de Auschwitz

Por Abraham H. Foxman
Director Nacional de la Liga Antidifamación

Este artículo apareció originalmente en el blog de The Huffington Post

El septuagésimo aniversario de la liberación de Auschwitz, que se celebrará el 27 de enero en el Día Internacional de Conmemoración en Memoria de las Víctimas del Holocausto, llega en un momento en que algunos se preguntan: ¿está sucediendo nuevamente en Europa?

Conocemos la respuesta racional a esa pregunta. A pesar de la gravedad del resurgimiento del antisemitismo en Europa, no hay comparación con la Europa de los años treinta y cuarenta del siglo pasado. En aquel entonces, un partido comprometido con la destrucción del pueblo judío obtuvo el poder total en Alemania y finalmente llegó a controlar casi toda Europa, permitiendo el asesinato sistemático de 6 millones de judíos y millones de otras personas en el Holocausto.

Hoy en día, los gobiernos de Europa no apoyan el antisemitismo; lo combaten, aunque no siempre con suficiente fuerza.

¿Si no es el Holocausto —y, si no es útil comprender los inmensos desafíos de hoy comparándolos con el Holocausto—, Auschwitz nos da alguna lección hoy en día?

Yo diría que varias.

Primero está el papel de las ideologías de odio en la producción de comportamientos violentos y antisemitas. Aunque hoy los antisemitas en Europa no controlan los gobiernos, son capaces de movilizar a personas comprometidas con la violencia sobre la base de nociones fantásticas sobre el mal de los judíos.

Joseph Goebbels, Ministro de Propaganda de Hitler, convenció a los alemanes no sólo de odiar a los judíos sino también de creer que tenían que protegerse del malvado y todopoderoso judío que estaba envenenando el cuerpo político alemán. También hoy, los extremistas islámicos —ya sea Al-Qaeda, ISIS, Hamas o Hezbolá— consideran al judío el origen del mal en el mundo.

La Carta de Constitución de Hamas no solamente hace un llamado a la destrucción de Israel; sostiene que los judíos son responsables de todos los males del mundo moderno desde la Revolución Francesa.

Cuando Al-Qaeda decidió atacar el World Trade Center el 11 de septiembre de 2001, fue sólo después de que consideraran atacar objetivos judíos en Nueva York. Incluso el World Trade Center era visto como un objetivo parcialmente “judío”, ya que se consideraba que los judíos controlan el comercio mundial, según “Los protocolos de los sabios de Sión“.

Una vez se resuelve que los judíos son la fuente del mal, es casi una responsabilidad actuar contra ellos. Y así los ataques contra civiles judíos, que representan el mal en forma ordinaria, se vuelven admisibles.

Debemos luchar contra esta ideología de odio. No debemos titubear al darle el nombre que merece y reunir a personas de todas las religiones contra él.

Una segunda lección es que la vergüenza por lo que el antisemitismo pudo producir, que se manifestó con la aparición de las primeras fotografías de Auschwitz después de la liberación, es un importante inhibidor del antisemitismo.

No cura al mundo de la enfermedad del antisemitismo —que está tan arraigada y sirve a muchos propósitos—, pero sí afecta el nivel y la intensidad del comportamiento antisemita.

El antisemitismo no explotó como un fenómeno durante décadas en parte debido a esta vergüenza. A medida que pasa el tiempo y la inmediatez del Holocausto se desvanece, resulta más importante que nunca desarrollar nuevas y creativas maneras de transmitir a los jóvenes sus horrores.

Recuerdo que hace algunos años escuché a Rita Sussmuth, del Bundestag alemán, hablando de la necesidad de crear nuevos y emotivos métodos para llegar a cada generación de jóvenes que está más y más alejada de los acontecimientos de la Segunda Guerra Mundial. Nunca debemos abandonar la lucha para explicar lo que puede provocar el antisemitismo.

Para mí, una tercera lección es la íntima conexión entre el antisemitismo y la salud de una sociedad democrática. Ya sea la expresión de que los judíos son el canario en la mina de carbón o las famosas líneas del Pastor Martin Niemöller sobre las consecuencias de no enfrentarse a la maldad, Auschwitz no es sólo sobre los males del antisemitismo sino también sobre cómo no controlarlo invariablemente pone en peligro a toda la sociedad.

La lucha contra el antisemitismo nunca debería considerarse solamente como una lucha moral. Es una lucha práctica, como lo expresó con tanta elocuencia el Primer Ministro Manuel Valls ante el Parlamento francés después de los ataques terroristas contra Charlie Hebdo y el supermercado kosher.

¿Cómo –preguntó– podría la sociedad francesa no protestar y estar indignada cuando los judíos eran insultados, cuando los vándalos violaban las instituciones judías, cuando los manifestantes intentaron invadir una sinagoga? Su mensaje fue claro: Toda Francia necesita ponerse de pie y con fuerza cuando los judíos son atacados. No solamente porque es lo correcto, sino porque es de vital importancia para el bienestar de la sociedad francesa.

El ataque criminal contra Charlie Hebdo sigue inevitablemente al asesinato de tres niños judíos en Toulouse. Los ataques contra los judíos en la Alemania Nazi invariablemente llevaron a los esfuerzos de Hitler para dominar y esclavizar al mundo.

Entonces, el martes, mientras conmemoramos los 70 años de la liberación de Auschwitz y el Día Internacional de Conmemoración de las Víctimas del Holocausto, la importancia de saber lo que sucedió allí y transmitírselo a la siguiente generación es más urgente que nunca.
Hoy, las amenazas contra los judíos son mayores de lo que han sido desde aquellos días oscuros. Y esas amenazas, como lo enseña la lección de Auschwitz, nos amenazan a todos nosotros.

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