WARSAW (Dec. 13)
Three days after he was elected president of Poland, Lech Walesa told visiting American Jews that he denounced resurgent anti-Semitism here and urged Polish citizens to move forward to a “new chapter.”
“This is a new chapter in Poland’s history,” Walesa was quoted as saying at a meeting in Sopot, in northern Poland. “I condemn all forms of anti-Semitism.”
He met for 35 minutes Wednesday with Rabbi A. James Rudin, interreligious affairs director of the American Jewish Committee, in the port city of Gdansk.
According to Rudin, Walesa pledged a Poland free of “all forms of anti-Semitism, extreme nationalism and chauvinism.”
It was not the first time Walesa had addressed the issue of anti-Semitism with American Jews. In November 1989, he personally denounced anti-Semitism in a meeting with Jewish organizational leaders in New York, saying he did not believe hatred of Jews was historically part of the Polish character.
He had also denied that Poland’s primate, Cardinal Jozef Glemp, was anti-Semitic. This followed accusations by Glemp in the summer of 1989 that world Jewry had violated Poland’s sovereignty over the issue of the Auschwitz convent.
Walesa had said that as a loyal Catholic he would not publicly denounce the cardinal.
His statements discomfited a number of Jews.
Since Poland overthrew its Communist government 15 months ago, resentment of Jews in this country of 38 million has been growing. It was a sticking point in election campaigns held here in this country where only a maximum of 10,000 Jews, most assimilated, remain in Poland where some 3.5 million lived before the Shoah.
Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki, who had been expected to finish second in the first round of balloting on Nov. 25, was soundly defeated by emigre businessman Stanislaw Tyminski, a political and popular unknown.
Mazowiecki, a devout Catholic, was a target of a whispering campaign that his family had Jewish ancestors.
Even Tyminski, a born Roman Catholic who writes in his autobiography that he has undergone “spiritual transformations” in Peru, was dogged by anti-Semitic charges.
For his part, Walesa seems eager to correct the situation. The Nobel peace laureate, who will be inaugurated later this month, acknowledges that he faces a challenge.
ANTI-SEMITISM A SERIOUS PROBLEM
“Anti-Semitism has been a serious problem here,” Walesa told his visitors this time. “We need to build a pluralistic society. We must do this, and we will do it.”
The Solidarity leader, a Roman Catholic, also said that extreme nationalism and chauvinism were incompatible with the church. More than 90 percent of Poland’s population identifies itself as Catholic.
Right-wing nationalism is on the rise all over Eastern Europe. Slovakia this week is testing Czechoslovakian President Vaclav Havel’s leadership powers with threats to dissolve the Czechoslovak union.
A fringe group in Poland, Grunwald, has seen its membership grow in the last year.
For his part, Walesa acknowledged that he had made some remarks both in Poland and during his visit to the United States last year that offended many Jews.
“I’ve made some mistakes,” he said.
Walesa was presented with a collection of Polish Jewish documents from the church and the teachings of Pope John Paul II by Rudin, who came here from Rome after an audience with the pope as a member of an international Jewish delegation.
The rabbi is on a tour of four eastern and central European countries — Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Austria — to meet with Christian leaders and “discuss the whole question of anti-Semitism, xenophobia and extremism,” he said.
(JTA Rome correspondent Ruth E. Gruber contributed to this report.)