JERUSALEM (May. 21)
The second day of Lech Walesa’s four-day state visit to Israel was an emotionally draining experience for the Polish president.
The former trade union leader, a devout Catholic, spent the afternoon touring Christian shrines in Jerusalem’s Old City and in Bethlehem.
But he and his wife were visibly shaken after their morning visit to Yad Vashem, the museum and memorial to the Holocaust, the worst of which occurred on Polish soil.
Yad Vashem Chairman Yitzhak Arad said Mrs. Walesa broke down in tears in front of some of the exhibits. Arad said the president was deeply moved as he gazed at the names, etched in stone, of more than 1,400 Polish Jewish communities eradicated by the Nazis.
“Not to be understood,” was his comment in the visitors book.
But Walesa grew defensive talking to reporters outside the memorial. He warned against judging and condemning the actions of the Polish people as a whole.
He said it was hard for this generation to judge, not having been there at the time of the Nazi occupation.
Walesa said that as a fighter, he knew well that brave giants become pygmies in certain circumstances.
The Polish president also met Tuesday with Defense Minister Moshe Arens. Israel Television reported later that he pledged Poland would not sell Syria Soviet-designed tanks, “because we do not want to sell weapons to Israel’s enemies.”
Walesa might have been trying to make points in the wake of another Eastern European leader’s recent visit here.
When Czechoslovak Prime Minister Marian Calfa came here earlier this month, he confirmed that his country had plans to sell Soviet-designed T-72 tanks to Syria, despite U.S. and Israeli protests.