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Shamir’s Remarks About Poland Held Up Diplomatic Relations

December 8, 1989
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Full diplomatic relations between Israel and Poland would already be in place if not for remarks about Polish anti-Semitism by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and Tourism Minister Gideon Patt, Polish Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki told an American Jewish leader this week.

Mazowiecki’s comment was reported by Henry Siegman, executive director of the American Jewish Congress. Siegman and AJCongress President Robert Lifton met this week with a number of Polish leaders, among them the Polish primate, Cardinal Jozef Glemp, and Cardinal Franciszek Macharski.

The AJCongress officials had come to Poland to mark the opening of a liaison office in Warsaw.

Siegman, speaking by phone telephone from Hungary, said that Mazowiecki expressed “great hurt and anger” after reports last month quoted Shamir as saying that Poles “drink in (anti-Semitism) with their mother’s milk.”

Mazowiecki also mentioned remarks by Patt, who told the Jerusalem Post last week that the Poles “were anti-Semites before the Holocaust and they were anti-Semites after the Holocaust.”

Mazowiecki said that “these blanket statements are the most destructive actions imaginable,” and that they “do irreparable harm” to those who are seeking reconciliation between Poles and Jews, Siegman reported.

Despite these tensions, Poland is expected to restore full diplomatic ties with Israel during the first months of 1990.


In New York, meanwhile, Siegman and Lifton came under criticism for agreeing to meet with Glemp.

Kalman Sultanik, a vice president of the World Jewish Congress, called it “a scandal” that “any Jewish leader would go to see Glemp before he apologized to the Jewish people” for his remarks accusing world Jewry of spreading anti-Polish feeling and undermining Polish sovereignty.

Sultanik said that during his visit to Poland last month, government leaders there “begged” him to meet with Glemp, but he refused.

“I told them that Glemp owes an apology to the Jewish people,” Sultanik said.

Siegman praised the continuing efforts by the new Solidarity-led Polish government to facilitate moving the Auschwitz convent, and Mazowiecki’s naming of a commission to recommend changes in the museum at Auschwitz that would reflect the magnitude of the effort made there to exterminate the Jewish people.

The AJCongress leaders were assured in their meetings with Glemp and Macharski that the decision to abide by a 1987 agreement to move the Auschwitz convent was “irreversible.”

Siegman quoted Glemp as saying that “the matter of the Carmelite convent is behind us.”

Construction of the new interfaith center, the AJCongress leaders were told, will begin sometime in 1990, and work on architectural plans for the center is proceeding.

During the meeting with Glemp, the subject of the Polish primate’s remarks in the summer, which Jews considered anti-Semitic, was not addressed. Glemp was “visibly tense” at the beginning of the meeting, Siegman observed, but grew more relaxed as the session wore on.

Glemp spoke of the development of programs to educate Catholics about Jews, and combatting anti-Semitism on the local parish level, Siegman said.

The AJCongress hopes that with the establishment of an office in Warsaw, it will be able to assist with these efforts and generally promote better Catholic-Jewish relations in Poland.

The AJCongress office will be run by Stanislaw Krajewski, a Solidarity activist and a leader of the Jewish community in Warsaw.

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