NEW YORK, July 25, 2016 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- In light of certain recent statements and actions of Polish officials, AJC Chief Executive Officer David Harris issued the following statement:
"AJC has had unique relations with Poland, beginning in the 1980s with strong support for the Solidarity movement, and continuing with the reintroduction of democracy in 1989. We took the lead in seeking to write a new chapter in ties between Poland and the Jewish people, and, together with Polish partners, there's a great deal to show for these efforts.
"AJC has worked closely with successive Polish governments and other actors to promote dialogue and understanding between American Jews and Poles, to support Poland's entry into NATO, and to foster deeper bilateral relations between Poland and the U.S., as well as between Poland and Israel.
"We have partnered with the Warsaw-based Forum for Dialogue in an annual exchange program that has brought hundreds of American Jewish leaders to Poland and Polish leaders to the U.S., and has shattered stereotypes and increased mutual awareness.
"And we are proud of our cooperation with the government in the creation, in 2004, of the Bełżec Memorial and Museum, which memorializes and protects the remains of 500,000 Holocaust victims, who were murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators in less than one year.
"During this time, we have also witnessed how Poland has struggled to address the difficult chapters of its Holocaust history, which has included not only the celebration of Polish rescuers who risked their own lives to save their Jewish neighbors, but also the recognition of others who were either callous bystanders or, at times, perpetrators in the murder of Jews.
"This has not been an easy process. Poles understandably do not feel there is sufficient appreciation for their own suffering – and resistance – under the Nazis, which was immense. As the first country attacked by Nazi forces on September 1, 1939, Poland endured years of brutal occupation, millions of fatalities, and widespread destruction of its infrastructure. At the same time, the accounts of some local attacks on Jews—common to so much of Eastern Europe during the Holocaust—were not easily acknowledged by Poles. But the process went on and took hold. There were examinations of the pogrom in Jedwabne at the outbreak of the Second World War, and of Kielce and other places after the war's end. Eventually, the country's own Institute for National Remembrance (IPN) documented these events, new memorial inscriptions were unveiled, and commemoration ceremonies held.
"Alongside this, we saw a growing interest in reclaiming the long history of Jewish life in Poland as part of the country's national identity. It has been reflected in popular Jewish cultural festivals, the creation of the remarkable POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, and in the revival of a small but vibrant Jewish community in Poland. Taken together, all these steps have offered a largely hopeful and optimistic journey.
"But today, there are reasons for concern.
"Recently, Anna Zalewska, the Education Minister of Poland's current government, has challenged the historical accuracy of the attack on Jewish neighbors in Jedwabne and Kielce having been perpetrated by Poles, despite the exhaustive research that had been conducted years ago. A new director of the IPN, Jarosław Szarek, has been appointed who has signaled his intent to pursue this revisionist policy. And this follows the controversial interrogation several months ago by the public prosecutor of Princeton University historian Jan Tomasz Gross, who was among the first to raise the public consciousness of the events in Jedwabne and Kielce.
"In light of these recent and troubling developments, and as long-time friends of Poland, we urge Polish President Andrzej Duda and other Polish leaders to reconsider this direction and put Poland back on the path towards an honest confrontation with the dark chapters of its past, thereby ensuring a solid foundation for future engagement."
SOURCE American Jewish Committee