NEW YORK (Nov. 27)
Avraham Weiss, the activist rabbi from the Bronx who staged a controversial demonstration at Auschwitz in July, has filed suit in a Polish court against Cardinal Jozef Glemp, charging that the head of the Polish Catholic Church slandered him.
The accusation centers around Glemp’s provocative Aug. 26 speech, in which the Roman Catholic archbishop suggested that Weiss had violent intentions when he and six students held a demonstration on the porch of the Carmelite convent at Auschwitz.
Addressing a huge audience at a Catholic feast in the city of Czestochowa, Glemp said that “a squad of seven Jews from New York launched attacks on the convent” and that “it did not happen that the sisters were killed or the convent destroyed, because they were apprehended.”
In an affidavit submitted last week to the Polish court, Weiss asserts that “the clear meaning of Cardianl Glemp’s statement is that I intended and attempted to murder and pillage when I visited the grounds of the convent.”
Weiss said since there were numerous media accounts of the incident indicating his group was engaged in non-violent protest, Glemp’s remarks were knowingly false.
During the same speech, Glemp made comments that infuriated many Jews, accusing the Jewish people of using their influence with the news media to spread anti-Polish sentiments and undermine Poland’s sovereignty.
Two Boston attorneys acting on behalf of Weiss and his chief lawyer, Alan Dershowitz, submitted the affidavit to the Czestochowa regional court last Friday.
FAILED TO GET POLISH LAWYER
Dershowitz and Weiss had made attempts to retain legal representation in Poland, but said that several attorneys had turned them down because of the controversy connected to challenging the nation’s highest-ranking Catholic official.
It is “close to impossible” to find a Polish lawyer who would take on the case, said Stanislaw Pomorski, a professor of law at Rutgers University and a former Warsaw attorney. Pomorski acted as a consultant and translator for Dershowitz.
“Suing the primate of Poland is without a precedent,” Pomorski said, adding that he was “extremely interested and in suspense” over the outcome of the case.
A Polish attorney retained for a short time tried to contact Glemp to reach an out-of-court settlement. Weiss had said that if Glemp made a public apology, he would not pursue legal action.
But Glemp rebuffed the efforts at dialogue, according to Dershowitz and Weiss, and the decision was then made to file the suit on Nov. 24, two days before the three-month statute of limitations that exists for such crimes in Poland would have run out.
While Jewish leaders involved in interfaith relations and the convent issue say that Weiss has the right as an individual to pursue his case, some worry that it will reignite the convent controversy. Currently, they believe, there appears to be some progress towards the convent’s relocation away from Auschwitz.
“My fear is that a public trial will raise the fever while we are now moving toward a solution and could do harm,” said Rabbi A. James Rudin, director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee.
Rudin said he would urge Weiss to “use any means to settle without going to trial.”
But Weiss says that this is the only way in which to clear his name after Glemp damaged his “reputation as a peaceful man” and painted him as “a violent and dangerous man, an attempted murderer.”