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Monday, 4 July 2016

Address by the President of Poland on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Kielce Pogrom

Observances of the 70th anniversary of the Kielce Pogrom (photo by Krzysztof Sitkowski / KPRP)

Prime Minster,

Minister,
Your Excellency, Madam Ambassador,
Your Excellency, Ambassador,
Your Excellency, Chief Rabbi of Poland,
Minister,
President,
All Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
Madame Voivode,
Honourable Deputies,
Senators,
Distinguished Guests,
Dear assembled inhabitants of Kielce,
 
 

I am here today to pay tribute on behalf of the Republic of Poland, of our home country, to those murdered on July 4th, 1946, seventy 70 years ago. A moment ago have I visited the local Jewish cemetery to bow my head and to reflect and to pray before the mass grave of those who perished here.

One could say they were young people, reaching on average their 25th - 30th year of age; so there were young people and, most importantly, something that I want to emphasize very strongly: there were citizens of Republic of Poland of Jewish descent, the people who often almost by miracle survived the Gehenna of the Holocaust, many a time seeing with their own eyes the demise of their nearest. I am here to emphasize that independent, sovereign, free Poland pays tribute to its citizens. For Poland is a country of freedom and mutual respect. Poland is a country featuring good coexistence of all citizens, regardless of their nationality, religion or language.

 

Therefore, in a free, sovereign and independent Poland, there is no room for any prejudice: no room for racism, xenophobia, there is no room for anti-Semitism. Such behaviour, even in its smallest manifestation, must be in Poland decidedly stigmatized, since only under such a condition will Poland be a genuinely free country in the eyes of all its citizens.

I am here today since the tragedy of the Kielce pogrom seventy years ago, has two dimensions to it: a state dimension and a social one. It unfolded after World War 2, after the atrocious experience of the Holocaust. It happened in a country which had its new power installed in it: the communist regime. In a state where in World War 2, the authorities of the Underground Poland punished all informants, all szmalcowniks, and all other people who showed no mutual solidarity: a citizen towards another citizen, the people who showed no solidarity in opposing their common enemy: the fascist Germany and Hitler's occupiers on Polish soil. The underground authorities ordered everyone to come to aid to Polish citizens of Jewish nationality whom the Germans wanted to eradicate completely under their plan to entirely destroy this nation.

               

It was the Polish Underground authorities that created “Żegota”, the Council to Aid Jews, who rescued thousands of humans beings, including children. It was the Polish Underground authorities and the Polish government in exile who kept informing the global powers about the developments on Polish territory occupied by the Germans: that Jewish people are annihilated, that there are annihilation camps in place where every day people are murdered on a mass scale. This tragedy here happened when the Communist regime came in, also to destroy the Polish Underground State and all people who wanted to oppose the regime. Why I am saying all this? The reason is that it is the state authorities: the military, the people's police, the Office for the Public Security on that day behaved in a shocking, not to say beastly manner. It was the military and the people's police that were first to open fire here, and many of the victims fallen here died from bullets. Instead of helping and protecting Polish citizens, our compatriots, the military and the people's police not only failed to afford any protection but even engaged in an upfront attack and then left the scene with the Security Office not stepping into action for many hours. It was only in the evening when they turned up to defend. However, this is also a social problem; involving more than complicity of the military of the policemen who were staging the attack here. Also ordinary people were involved in the attack... I leave it down to historians and sociologists to determine how it happened and why it happened, why people reacted in this particular way. However, there is one thing to be strongly underlined: there is no justification whatsoever to the crime of anti-Semitism. There is no and there never will be! There is no justification to a situation when a man raises his hand to strike another: defenceless, innocent. It can never happen in law-abiding state. Today Poland is a law-abiding state, the state which wants to give security to all of its citizens, no matter what their home or class, no matter in what faith they were raised or if raised without faith, no matter what tongue they close to their hearts; since we are all Polish citizens. The Republic of Poland owes equal protection to all of its citizens.

 
Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Poles and Jews on this soil represent a millennium tradition of co-existence of two nations, two cultures, often intermarriages, kinship, friendship, acquaintance. A millennium of shared history and being together in Polin, the land friendly to the Jewish people. “Polin” - “rest here, this is a friendly place”. A millennium of history in which the Poles, the Polish citizens of Jewish nationality, were standing up to defend the Republic of Poland: in uprisings, in the wars of 1920 and 1939, and all across World War 2: on various fronts, the Western and Eastern, fighting in the Polish army, in the September's defensive war and in the Warsaw Rising. In all of those places, they stood arm in arm, fighting for Poland's freedom. They shed blood together.

 

I wish to emphasize it with all my might: the people who perpetrated this crime here on July 4th,  by  doing so have excluded themselves from the our society, no longer being part of the Commonwealth of friends. How could they ever look in the eyes of all those Poles of Jewish nationality who died for our freedom? For so many centuries, for whole decades. How could they ever look in the eyes of the Ulms family or all of them who sacrificed their lives coming to aid Jews, or who incurred such risk or suffered? How could they ever look in the eyes of honest Polish citizens? Honest people? They cannot look them in the eyes because such a conduct as exemplified back then, was never approved, and – as I trust – will never be approved.

 

The Republic of Poland bans such people, there is no room for them in our common state, in our great community of Polish citizens.

 
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Once again do I pay homage to all of them who perished here. I wish to pay homage and to acknowledge all of them who over decades have been building and continue to build good relations between the Polish and the Jewish people, who uphold the memory and manifest how beautiful albeit difficult the history of the Commonwealth of friends has been. I want to thank all of them who contributed to establishing the beautiful Polin Musem in Warsaw. A this point, I wish to recall President Professor Lech Kaczynski, the great advocate of Polish-Jewish friendship and co-existence, a great patron of the Commonwealth of friends, one of those who made the Polin Museum project come true.

 

I would like to make sure that this Museum, next to the Warsaw Rising Museum, would permanently feature on itineraries of school trips. To make sure that young people visit this Museum. In order to promote the awareness of this good centuries' old coexistence, the awareness of Commonwealth of friends which used to be.

 

I also wish to thank all of them who contributed to the project of building the Museum of Poles who Saved Jews. From all nations of the world we have the highest number of trees planted in the Yad Vashem Institute testifying to thousands, tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of Poles who helped Jews during the war to smaller or greater extent, who helped their compatriots. I am grateful for the effort to commemorate them since this is also an important feature of our history. Let us take care and preserve what was significant, beautiful but equally of what was difficult those days, so that the memory does not perish. So that also the difficult moments serve us as material to build on and draw conclusions from, and to develop possibly best relations of friendship and good coexistence. But, most importantly, never condoning enmity: groundless, empty and primitive. Thank you very much.

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