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July 29, 2016 1

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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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May 19, 2016 1

Iranian Holocaust Cartoon Exhibition Opens

Iran’s newest “Holo­caust con­test” exhi­bi­tion opened on May 14 in a gallery in Tehran. Accord­ing to Iran­ian news reports, the con­test received over 864 sub­mis­sions from par­tic­i­pants around the world.  Of those, 150 car­toons from 50 coun­tries were accepted, with rep­re­sen­ta­tion of car­toon­ists from Brazil, China, Colom­bia, France, Indone­sia, Peru, Syria, Turkey and Yemen, among others.

Con­test orga­nizer Masoud Sho­jai Tabatabaei insisted the event was not to deny or cel­e­brate the Nazi Holo­caust, but to call out the “Holo­caust” being wit­nessed with “the big killings by the Zion­ist regime in Gaza and Palestine.”Iranian Holocaust Cartoon

Of course this is not the first such con­test held in Iran, nor the first time the Iran­ian gov­ern­ment and its organs have politi­cized, denied and abused the mem­ory of the Holo­caust and its victims.

In the exhi­bi­tion, the car­toons are divided into two themes. The first relate to the Holo­caust; the sec­ond com­pare Israeli Prime Min­is­ter Netanyahu to Hitler. Pho­tos from the exhi­bi­tion reveal car­toons fea­tur­ing swastikas and other anti-Semitic imagery.

The con­test has earned the con­dem­na­tion of the State Depart­ment (“abhor­rent”), UNESCO (“goes against the uni­ver­sal val­ues of tol­er­ance and respect”) and the Ger­man For­eign Min­istry (“the mur­der of 6 mil­lion men, women and chil­dren dur­ing the Holo­caust, for which we Ger­mans bear guilt and respon­si­bil­ity, must not be aban­doned to ridicule”).

The con­test win­ners will be announced on May 30.

If you’re won­der­ing how much one can earn from a car­toon lam­poon­ing or dimin­ish­ing an act which killed six mil­lion Jews, it is reported that the win­ning car­toon will be awarded a sum of $12,000.

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May 11, 2016 56

Iran’s Second International Holocaust Cartoon Exhibition Opens On May 14

On May 14, 2016, the sec­ond inter­na­tional Holo­caust Car­toon Con­test exhi­bi­tion will open in Iran, with the first place win­ner – report­edly to be announced in June – receiv­ing a large cash prize. Accord­ing to reports in the Iran­ian press, the May 14th date was cho­sen to coin­cide with Nakba Day (cat­a­stro­phe day), the term used by Pales­tin­ian to refer to the events sur­round­ing Israel’s inde­pen­dence in 1948.

The con­test report­edly received over 800 sub­mis­sions from artists in 50 coun­tries, and the exhi­bi­tion will fea­ture 100 works, as well as 50 pro­file car­toons on the sub­ject of “Netanyahu”, a ref­er­ence to the Israeli Prime Minister.

Auschwitz TracksDome of the Rock






In a recent New Yorker mag­a­zine inter­view, Iran­ian For­eign Min­is­ter Javad Zarif denied accu­sa­tions that the Holo­caust con­test is sup­ported by the Iran­ian gov­ern­ment. How­ever, accord­ing to the Mid­dle East Media Research Insti­tute, the sec­re­tary of the NGO respon­si­ble for con­test Mas­soud Sho­jaei Tabatabaei stated that the con­test orga­niz­ers coop­er­ate with the Iran­ian Min­istry of Cul­ture, and that every­one in the Iran­ian regime “knows that this exhi­bi­tion is highly respected.”

Iran held its first Holo­caust car­toon con­test back in 2006 under Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ahmadine­jad, receiv­ing 204 entries from Iran and around the world. Dur­ing his tenure as Pres­i­dent, Ahmadine­jad repeat­edly used his posi­tion to pro­mote Holo­caust denial, a prac­tice that con­tin­ues to this day in parts of Iran. The 2006 contest’s win­ning sub­mis­sion depicted Israel con­struct­ing a wall, painted with an image of the infa­mous rail­way lead­ing to the gates of Auschwitz, around the Dome of the Rock mosque in Jerusalem. Other win­ners included images of Pales­tini­ans in con­cen­tra­tion camp garb, the “myth of the gas cham­bers” and a Holo­caust museum in the shape of a swastika.

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