Poland apologizes for swastika


ROME, March 26 (JTA) — Poland’s president and prime minister have sent letters of support and apology to a Warsaw Ghetto hero after vandals scrawled anti-Semitic slogans on the walls of his home in the city of Lodz.

The vandalism at the home of Marek Edelman, the last surviving commander of the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto uprising, occurred last week, after thousands of volunteers in Lodz cleaned up city walls long defaced by racist and anti-Semitic graffiti.

Vandals painted on Edelman’s building a swastika, the name of a skinhead group and the phrase “Jude raus,” German for “Jew, out.”

“Young people from Lodz reacted so magnificently to slogans of hatred and stupidity. And then, under the cover of night someone tried to prove that evil must prevail,” Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek wrote Edelman.

“But democracy cannot tolerate evil,” Buzek wrote. “I can therefore assure you that that ignoble act will be met with the decisive reaction of the state. The hatred directed against you is hatred directed at every Pole, myself included.”

President Aleksander Kwasniewski sent a similar message to Edelman, a cardiologist and longtime human rights activist who has received many honors from the Polish state.

The Polish media also expressed indignation.

“Someone spat in our face,” headlined the newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, which had helped organize the clean-up campaign, called “Action Colorful Tolerance.”

Jews and others expressed satisfaction with the campaign.

Despite the act of vandalism, the “clean-up action is seen as a truly positive development,” said Stanislaw Krajewski, a member of the board of the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland. “The only reservation would be that it came so late. Still, a good beginning has been made. All serious political forces support it.”

The clean-up action involved thousands of volunteers, including city authorities, the Union of Jewish Students and the Catholic Youth Association.

Lodz has become infamous in recent years for anti-Semitic graffiti, much of it scrawled by local soccer fans and directed not against Jews per se, but against opposing teams.

As in other countries — such as Italy — fanatic soccer fans, often linked to skinhead groups, frequently use anti-Semitic slogans and imagery to denigrate opponents.

In Lodz, for example, graffiti all over the city showed a Star of David hanging from the gallows captioned “LKS Jude” — Jude means Jew in German, and LKS is the name of a soccer team.

The clean-up action was sponsored by the local office of Gazeta Wyborcza in response to an open letter from the chairman of a Lodz Jewish group, Abraham Zelig, complaining that the graffiti desecrated the memory of Nazi victims.

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