The recent Forward article entitled “Why Poland’s Jews Mourn Their President” seems to be answering the elephant-sized question that many have been silently asking themselves: Why are so many Jewish organizations (including March of the Living) and The State of Israel voicing such an outpouring of solidarity and sympathy for Poles in a time of their most terrible loss? Could it be an indication that Jewish communities and organizations are finally looking at the Poles as more than the ambivalent caretakers of their most sacred graveyard? Is it simply a sign that the established Jewish community can reach out their hands even to those they perceive as perpetrators of a most grave crime?
Kaczynski’s politics were not more popular among Poland’s Jewish community of 8,000 than among Poles at large. But the Jews had real reason to mourn a leader who had shown sympathy and support both to them and to the State of Israel, from the day when, soon after winning the 2005 presidential election, he compared himself to Ariel Sharon.
Indeed, there are analogies between the political philosophies of the two. Both were conservative leaders with strong nationalist feelings and were at the helm of countries they considered threatened by neighbors. (Kaczynski took a dim view not only of the past, but also of the present policies of Germany and Russia.) Both were impatient with what they considered liberal indifference to their respective national traditions and values. And both strongly believed in the fundamental role of the state as the nation’s most valuable institution. Both tended to look at what they believed history’s judgment would be, rather than at public opinion polls.
Kaczynski was far from being the only conservative European politician in power today. Yet it would be difficult to imagine any other European leader comparing himself to Sharon; the public-opinion fallout would be devastating. But Kaczynski had no such qualms. To him, the Israeli prime minister was an inspiration, and Israel a friendly state. Much of Polish public opinion tended to agree with him. No criticism followed his Sharon remarks.
That’s right, a top Polish politician was into THE BULLDOZER. In this intricate web of official condolence calls and mixed feelings, Gebert articulates too well that the contemporary Polish-Jewish relationship can be understood through the perceived political affinities between two right-wing nationalists who became intensely unpopular during their lifetimes. It goes to show that as Jewish cultural revival continues throughout the Polish lands, the elite descendants of Polish Jewry living in America and Israel largely see their relationship to Poland through a Zionist, not Ashkenazi, lens. This seems to imply that, at least on an official level, the development of Polish-Jewish reconciliation has largely been achieved through the work of politicians, not through the work of grassroots activists who spend so much time investing in a future for Jewish culture and memory in Poland. I never would have thought that March of the Living, an organization that has been repeatedly criticized for portraying Poland as a bloody, smoldering launching pad for the Zionist future, would require a moment of silence for victims of the crash as it toured its participants through Auschwitz. Do our leaders really feel sympathy for the Poles, or are we just trying to maintain alliances in a Europe increasingly critical of Israeli policy? A mixture of both?
His (Kaczynski’s) Jewish sympathies earned him the scorn of antisemitic extremists, who accused him of being Jewish himself (his “true” name supposedly was Kalkstein); somehow, his brother escaped being thus tainted. Rydzyk brutally attacked the Polish president during a lecture in 2007, accusing him of giving in to Jews, both by allocating land for the museum and supposedly ignoring the alleged threat of Jewish reparation demands. In contrast with his brother, Lech Kaczynski never granted the fundamentalist station an interview. But he had to pay the price for tolerating Jarosław’s alliances. At the funeral last year of Marek Edelman, deputy commander of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and a hero to the president, Kaczynski stood in silence and alone: The family refused him the right to speak, as Edelman had bitterly criticized the twin brothers’ policies…
…Alive, Kaczynski was a divisive and increasingly unpopular figure because of his authoritarian views, with approval ratings recently as low as 32%. But his tragic death has transformed him into a national icon, with all of Poland united in mourning. Polish Jews shared that pain with all other Polish citizens: A memorial service held in Warsaw’s only synagogue was packed full the day after the plane crash.