WARSAW, Poland (JTA) — Far-right marchers shouted “Jews out” and other racist slogans at Independence Day events in Poland, drawing condemnation from Jewish groups.
At the March of Independence in Warsaw on Saturday, participants held signs with racist slogans, including “White Europe, Europe must be white.” Some shouted “Sieg Heil” and “Remove Jewry from power.” Among the marchers were individuals who wore masks, waved red-and-white Polish flags and burned flares.
Police estimated that 60,000 people participated in the annual march, which is organized by nationalist groups and marked 99 years of Polish independence. A small minority of the marchers came from outside of Poland.
Poland’s interior minister expressed pride in the event.
“It was a beautiful sight,” Mariusz Błaszczak said. “We are proud that so many Poles have decided to take part in a celebration connected to the Independence Day holiday.”
Culture Minister Piotr Gliński condemned the slogans and banners that mentioned race without referring to anti-Semitism.
“We do not support such slogans,” he said, referencing what he termed “use of ethnic and racist terminology to describe the concept of the Polish nation.”
In response to the march, the American Jewish Committee in a statement Monday called on the Polish government to take action against “rising hatred inspired by the country’s far right.”
Agnieszka Markiewicz, the director of AJC’s Warsaw-based Central Europe office, said that while the holiday was celebrated appropriately by some, it was “seriously marred by hateful, far-right throngs.” She said that “xenophobic nationalism in Poland is becoming more dangerous” and warned against complacency.
“The apparent tolerance shown for these purveyors of hate — and, let’s be clear, that’s exactly what they are — by some Polish government officials is particularly troubling,” said Markiewicz, referring to Błaszczak’s comments. “History has painfully taught us that silence or inaction in such matters can come with a high price.”
Jonny Daniels, the founder of From the Depths, a Holocaust commemoration group in Poland, also called on the government to act. He asked police to identify and prosecute marchers whom his group documented using racist language. If charged and convicted of acts of discrimination or incitement to hatred, they could face up to three years in prison.
“Poland cannot allow this to happen,” Daniels told JTA on Monday.
At the same time, Daniels said that only a small minority of the marchers used racist language and “hijacked the event.”
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon on Monday called the event “a dangerous march of extreme and racist elements.”
“We hope that Polish authorities will act against the organizers. History teaches us that expressions of racist hate must be dealt with swiftly and decisively,” he told the Associated Press in a statement.
Poland’s Foreign Ministry said Monday that it strongly condemns racist, anti-Semitic and xenophobic ideas, but added that the march was “a great celebration of Poles, differing in their views, but united around the common values of freedom and loyalty to an independent homeland.”
The Ministry said the march should not be defined by some “incidental” elements.
Racist rhetoric was also documented at events Saturday outside of Warsaw.
In the western city of Wroclaw, an Independence Day march of approximately 2,000 participants was led by Piotr Rybak, who was convicted this year of burning an effigy of a Jew two years ago at a demonstration against immigration.
Jacek Miedlar, a former priest who also led the Wroclaw march, called on the crowd to take extreme action against what he described as forces of evil — including Jews — that he said threatened the state.
“Be ruthless, be radical in the fight against evil, lies, injustice, lawlessness, the destruction of the Polish judiciary and Talmudism,” Miedlar said. Only then, “this war will be won, and no Jewish Marxist horde will take away our flag or the cross of Christ.”
He also said that in Polish synagogues, “Jews are drunk with Talmudic hatred.”