NEW YORK (JTA) — A planned production by the Jewish Theater of New York on anti-Semitism in Lodz has generated an angry exchange of letters with the Polish government. Piotr Erenfeicht, press secretary for the Polish Embassy in Washington, complained about the portrayal of his country in online publicity materials for “Last Jew in Europe,” a tragicomedy about the resurgence of anti-Semitism in Lodz. In a letter to Liz Lauren, the theater’s press contact, Erenfeicht objected to photographs of anti-Jewish graffiti scrawled on walls around the city. A press release refers to Lodz as “an anti-Semite’s paradise.””The images in the press release focus on anti-Semitism not of specific people blemished by a particular vice of character or judgment, but rather on a whole nation,” Erenfeicht wrote in a letter that the theater released to the media. “This creates a broad, unfair and misleading perception of a given nation, in this case the Polish nation.”Tuvia Tenenbom, the theater’s artistic director, replied with an angry letter, calling the Polish complaint “ridiculous” and asserting that American Jews are a “mature group” who “have their own brains and are surely mentally capable to draw conclusions on their own.”Tenenbom also took issue with Erenfeicht’s example of the Lodz Four Cultures Festival as demonstrating the city’s kindness toward the Jewish people.”Well, to inform you, I’ve been there,” Tenenbom wrote. “I was amazed by how this festival so carefully chooses Jewish shows that depict Jews as a nebbish bunch of idiots.”The exchange comes after years in which Poland has worked to change its image as a haven of anti-Semitism, an effort set back by the publication earlier this month of a tract by a Polish member of the European Parliament suggesting that Jews are unethical. Polish President Lech Kaczynski reportedly said the booklet “worried me seriously,” and the European Parliament is considering sanctions against the author, Maciej Giertych. The theater controversy, which found its way into the pages of a New York tabloid over the weekend, likely will draw even more attention to the production, which tells the story of a young Polish Jew afraid of losing his Christian fiancee if his religion is revealed. The play was warmly received when performed in Germany during the 2006 soccer World Cup. The play is to open in New York in early March.Erenfeicht told JTA his purpose was not to attack the play but to express concern about an unfair portrayal of his country.”It just kind of showed just one side to a whole country and a whole group of people,” Erenfeicht said. “I was just concerned that a negative view would be brought out of that.” □
Ben Harris is JTA's former associate editor.