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Tuesday, 27 February 2018

President: We want historical truth to be defended

  |   Andrzej Duda and his wife Agata Kornhauser-Duda met on Tuesday in Krakow with members of the Jewish community Andrzej Duda and his wife Agata Kornhauser-Duda met on Tuesday in Krakow with members of the Jewish community Andrzej Duda and his wife Agata Kornhauser-Duda met on Tuesday in Krakow with members of the Jewish community Andrzej Duda and his wife Agata Kornhauser-Duda met on Tuesday in Krakow with members of the Jewish community Andrzej Duda and his wife Agata Kornhauser-Duda met on Tuesday in Krakow with members of the Jewish community Andrzej Duda and his wife Agata Kornhauser-Duda met on Tuesday in Krakow with members of the Jewish community

Excellency, Distinguished Rabbi – the Chief Rabbi of the Republic of Poland,

Distinguished Director,

Dear Assembled Guests!


In the first place, let me thank you very much for inviting me to this meeting, and for the opportunity to meet and to visit the Jewish Community Center in Krakow. As you know, Ladies and Gentlemen, this city is particularly close to my wife’s and my own heart, for we were born here, we were raised here, and we spent many years working here. In a way, by the election that the Polish people have made, we were both delegated from here to Warsaw to assume our respective functions: myself of the President of the Republic of Poland, and my wife of the First Lady, for the tenure provided for in the Constitution.


Director, thank you very much for your remarks about the Jewish community in Poland having a future in store for it. On a number of occasions, I pointed it out myself- since this is by no means the first time I am meeting Jewish community, I have been also meeting them in Israel. As a matter of fact, both in Poland and consequently, all around the world, wherever the Jews have gone to look for their new homes, everywhere we have carried one thousand years of common history here in Poland. One thousand years of living next to each other; and as you realize well, of living together in so many cases, living literarily together: united by bonds of marriage, by blood ties. The truth is that nobody really knows in Poland how much Jewish blood one has in his or her veins. Therefore, my answer to the question whether Jews have a future in Poland, is affirmative: Yes, Jews have a future here for they are here. For me, this is absolutely obvious.


Krakow is indeed a unique place in this respect, and so is the Małopolska region. Jewish community used to live here for centuries and was doing well. The district of Krakow where we are now is famous all across Poland and beyond: it is Kazimierz, this very place where a Jewish settlement was established as of 1495. First in a town that was founded here by king Kazimierz: Casimir the Great, to be thereafter incorporated as a district of Krakow. And there is abundance of traces of Jewish culture to be found in the local architecture and in all of its other aspects.


I am very happy that Jewish culture: Jewish social, cultural and intellectual life is restored here. Now that almost 30 years have lapsed, it is reinstated in Krakow. This is an immense joy for me. Likewise, the cultural events, such as the Jewish Culture Festival, which has grown into the municipal tissue of Krakow, and features importantly in the calendar of most prominent permanent events in the life of the city, attracting artists from all over the world.


Thank you for making it all happen. Thank you for achieving the goal which is for me, as President, very important: thank you for reconstructing with your own active effort the Republic of Friends, as we once termed it. This is of paramount importance to me, as a person, but also to me as President of the Republic of Poland, as President who would like to follow up on the work which was initiated and carried out by President Lech Kaczyński for whom I had an honour of working for two years, as some of you may know. I saw his approach to Polish-Jewish relations, to Jewish culture, I saw his great appreciation of its value and of all the contribution made by Jewish culture to Polish culture. Nowadays, many features, originally descending from Jewish culture, are described as part and parcel of Polish culture. This is of paramount importance, Ladies and Gentlemen. This is the grand heritage we share.


Obviously, this history has had its meanders, and many different situations were taking place, but all in all one can say that our joint existence over centuries proceeded well, and there were very many Jews of profound merits to the Republic of Poland. This is very beautifully illustrated by the POLIN Museum in Warsaw, an illustrious monument to the millennium of shared history. Indeed, the services rendered by Jewish community in the building of the Polish state, in the building of its might, also in the days where Poland was at its height, in developing many of its institutions, are invaluable. Also, bearing in mind grand personages of Polish culture; all those exquisite poets of Jewish descent. A great contribution to all that makes up the Republic of Poland, the way we would like to have it. We all know that all these threads were interrupted, interrupted by the tragedy of the Holocaust, of World War 2, of German Nazi occupation in Poland, interrupted by the annihilation camps and the demise of the Jewish community.


In this connection, a serious clash has recently occurred in Polish-Jewish relations. I am deliberately using the word “clash”, I do not want to say this is “a crisis” , nor “a disaster”, for in my opinion, it is not the case. I do believe we should do our utmost to have this matter explained and resolved. I cannot possibly imagine a situation where all the effort should be wasted: the work done by all people desirous of good Polish-Jewish relations, desirous of possibly best relations with the Jewish community in Poland, so that the Jewish community here might continue to live and flourish here, further contributing to our culture. And I cannot imagine a situation where the relations between Poland and the State of Israel should deteriorate after all that has been achieved in the last thirty years.


You will appreciate that so many positive things have been achieved. And it pains one to think that any portion of it should be wasted.


It goes without saying: I am greatly indebted to you, Director, for taking care of the Rescued and the Survivors, whom you have mentioned. 

Thank you, Madam, for taking care of the elderly, and thank you for your presence here. Ladies and Gentlemen, the Rescued and the Survivors are extremely important for us. Thank you for your presence, it is a testimony and a passage through death to life of a kind: starting from life in the pre-war Second Republic of Poland, from living together, and next to each other, then passing through death to life again, to everything that is going on now. And, admittedly, what we see right now, is a revival. And I would like this revival to reach its peak and to translate into success in Polish-Jewish relations.


Obviously, the period of German occupation, of extermination camps and of ghettoes is an atrocious and dramatic chapter in Poland’s history. it is a gruesome time of hecatomb in the life of Jewish community. I have no doubt whatsoever as to the fact that it was the Jewish nation who suffered most in World War 2. The Germans simply wanted to destroy the Jewish nation, no doubt about it. The final solution was meant to entail a thorough destruction of the Jewish people. The Poles were for the Germans  “Untermenschen”. The Germans slaughtered the Polish intelligentsia, willing to transform nation into a slave nation, the Germans also slaughtered Poles.


I would very much like us to live in historic truth. Let me put it this way. Ladies and Gentlemen: each time they say that in Poland we want to rewrite history, it breaks my heart to hear it.  Far be it from us: no history to be rewritten. All that we want it to have historic truth defended at every stage, so that is not denigrated, so that there are no unjust, degrading and excruciating judgments, and we know that they do happen. It is the only provision in the Law amending the Act on the Institute of National Remembrance, that has become bone of contention.


I must admit that when I first read this particular provision, it did not raise my great doubts – as of a lawyer - when potential liability of people doing research or creating works of culture was excluded. However, some dramatic interpretations were appearing purporting that in such a case people who survived and who whose testimonies are firmly imprinted in their hearts for the rest of their lives, could be punished for their testimony. Well, Ladies and Gentlemen, nothing worse could happen than if it were to come to such a situation that those who survived would be afraid to give their testimony - to talk about what they experienced, what they saw. Also tell about their feelings - because they also have the right to do so. And they have the right to assess the situation. Even if this situation can sometimes be for me as a Pole. Certainly, it is painful for me to hear that a Pole denounced the Jewish family. Certainly, it is painful for me when I hear that blackmailers – szmalcownicy - were among the Poles. But, Ladies and Gentlemen – they were AMONG. One cannot say that Poles as a nation took part in the Holocaust. That is not true. In no institutionalized way did the Polish state take part in the Holocaust. On the contrary - it fought against the Germans. On the contrary - the Polish Underground State was passing death sentences on szmalcownicy, on all those who were guilty of denunciation of Jews. 


There were Polish families - as you know - who offered shelter to Jews, thanks to whom they have been rescued. It is an extremely complex story and a time so difficult that it is hard for us, today's young people who were born after World War 2, to imagine it at all. What kind of feelings could be then felt? What does fear mean? How far is the limit of this fear? Fear of death – mutually experienced, because for the Poles, helping and sheltering Jews was punishable with death penalty. These are extremely difficult issues. And any generalization here is unauthorized and does hurt people.


Therefore, I wish to thank you for a very calm and balanced position that the representatives of the Union of Jewish Religious Communities have taken. Thank you very much, Director, for the extremely balanced and very objective position that you have recently presented. This is crucially important. This is of course a very difficult subject, laden with memories, history and, in a way, also related to the foundation of the State of Israel.


Ladies and Gentlemen, when I think about why the State of Israel is so strong and tough, why military service in Israel is universal, why no one opposes it, why the Jewish state is so unusually consistent in securing Jews all over the world, in taking care of their safety, why soldiers were sent without hesitation to rescue Jews in most remote countries, from a kidnapped plane, as in an operation where a brother of Prime Minister Netanyahu was killed - why?   The reason is that the state should be able to defend its citizens. I am convinced that the leaders of the Jewish state decided to take such a course after having seen what happened here, when the Jewish state was non-existent, when the Jewish state was unable to protect its citizens, and the Polish state collapsed and was also unable to protect them – what kind of a hecatomb occurred, something that should never recur.  


This year, Ladies and Gentlemen, we celebrate the Centenary of Independence.  Let me emphasize the point again: the Second Republic of Poland which was reborn in 1918; which regained its independence, which was brought back on the map of Europe, it withstood the Soviet onslaught of 1920, and then stood against the Nazi invasion of 1939, and unfortunately failed. The cemeteries of soldiers who then died for Poland, in defence of Poland, are filled with tombs bearing the Star of David, are full of defenders of the Republic of Poland who were of Jewish descent, they boys who stood up for Poland because this was their home country, because they were Polish Jews. Poland will always gratefully acknowledge the fact, and this should stand as a foundation to build our mutual relations on.


The centenary of independence right now and the independence regained one hundred years ago. The blood shed together for a free and independent Poland. And this is something I want my compatriots to whereabout, always. This is the Republic of Friends – it existed based on friendship and shared bloodshed and it has been reborn thanks to it. How many boys of Jewish descent were there in the Legions? There were hundreds and thousands of them in the Polish Army, standing for the shared Republic.


Let me cordially thank you for this meeting. I trust that we will able to Bild this shared Republic of Poland with our concerted effort. I do hope that the conflict which has arisen will be resolved in calm and peace. Unfortunately, circumstances may not be fully conducive, obviously there is also politics in it, also in Israel, and various voices are to be heard. There also, alas. some people who wish to exploit the situation as a political fuel, but I do believe that people of good will who want to build good relations between Poland and Israel, and to promote Polish-Jewish relations, will gain the upper hand, and the matter will be resolved.


Also, I look forward to a wise decision of the Constitutional Tribunal on that count. I referred those provisions in question to the Tribunal in reaction to the fears professed that it would no longer be possible for the Survivors to give testimonies. I would like the Tribunal to construe these provisions, to examine them and to express its view on the subject. I do hope it will happen soon, helping us to alleviate the situation and to move ahead with the good and positively interpreted dialogue.


Once again, let me thank you for inviting us here to your Center, thank you for the possibility to see the Early Childhood Center; and I am very happy to see the Jewish Community Center thriving in Krakow.


Thank you!


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