(JTA) – Tadeusz Mazowiecki, Poland’s first post-Communist prime minister, was being remembered by the Jewish world for fighting anti-Semitism and as a friend of Israel.
Mazowiecki, a former journalist, died Monday in Warsaw. He was 86.
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of a great statesman and friend,” Piotr Kadlcik, president of the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland, said in a statement issued Monday.
The Jewish community, Kadlcik said, “will remember him as a symbol of dialogue and extraordinary wisdom and goodness in difficult and rebellious times.”
He noted that Mazowiecki had long been an activist for human rights and against discrimination. As early as 1960, Kadlcik said, Mazowiecki had written that “the fight against anti-Semitism is not any merit or any humanitarian gesture of mercy, it is not only a struggle for the dignity of the Jews, but as much a struggle for our own dignity. It is a struggle for the dignity of all.”
The World Jewish Congress also paid tribute to Mazowiecki as “one of the architects of the modern, democratic Poland and as a friend of Israel and the Jewish people.”
It was under the Mazowiecki government that Poland re-established diplomatic relations with Israel in 1990 and opened Polish airports for Jews leaving the then-Soviet Union.
In a statement, WJC President Ronald Lauder said, “The Jews are grateful to Tadeusz Mazowiecki for his staunch defense of their rights as Poland emerged from Communism, and for his help in resolving the crisis of the Carmelite convent on the grounds of Auschwitz in the early 1990s. He will also be remembered for speaking out against anti-Semitism clearly and unequivocally and exposing war crimes as special rapporteur for human rights in the former Yugoslavia. May his memory be for a blessing.”