Polish president opens museum for Righteous among Nations
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Polish president opens museum for Righteous among Nations

WARSAW (JTA) — Amid a public debate about Poland’s Holocaust-era record, the country’s president attended the opening of a museum for non-Jews who saved Jews’ lives during the genocide.

At a ceremony attended by approximately 2,000 people, Andrzej Duda on Thursday spoke of anti-Semitism as not only hateful to Jews, but also disrespectful to the memory of those who risked their lives to save them.

Those who “sow hatred between people, sow and foment anti-Semitism, at the same time trample upon the grave of the Ulma family,” he said of the family that gave the new museum in the southeastern town of Markowa its name: The Ulma Family Museum of Poles who Saved Jews.

On March 24, 1944, German police murdered eight Jews and several people who hid them: Jozef Ulma, his pregnant wife and their six children. The Ulmas were recognized in 1995 as Righteous among the Nations for their actions by Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum.

The Markowa museum’s opening is one of several new government initiatives to commemorate the Righteous, including plans and funding for a monument to be located next to the All Saints Church on Warsaw’s Grzybowski Square. Another monument, which is controversial for its location, is planned near the Museum of the History of Polish Jews at what used to be the Warsaw Ghetto.

The Polish government allocated this year $53,000 for building a chapel in Torun near Bydgoszcz in central Poland dedicated to the Righteous.

At the same time, Poland’s rightist government, which was elected in 2015, has courted controversy by taking steps that are seen as prohibitive to confronting actions of Poles who participated in the murder of Jews during the Holocaust.

The office of Duda in January requested the re-evaluation of the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit medal, which was given in 1996 to Jan Gross, author of the controversial 2001 book “Neighbors,” about a 1941 pogrom perpetrated against Jews by their non-Jewish countrymen in the town of Jedwabne.