Poland bids to reclaim forgotten past as haven for Jews

Sat Oct 25, 2014 2:28am EDT
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By Christian Lowe and Marcin Goettig

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland, the country on whose soil Nazi Germany carried out the darkest acts of the Holocaust, is starting to re-connect with its other role in Jewish history, as a home for 1,000 years to one of the world's biggest Jewish communities.

The country will take a step in that direction next week with the opening of the main exhibition at Warsaw's newly built Museum of the History of Polish Jews, a project that sets out to remember not just how Jews in Poland died, but how they lived.

Poland's effort to reach out to its Jewish heritage, tentative and incomplete though it is, contrasts with the mood in other parts of Europe, where Jewish groups say Jews are subject to hostility and sometimes violent attacks.

Some in the Jewish community say Poland -- site during the German occupation of the Warsaw ghetto and the Auschwitz, Treblinka and Sobibor camps where millions of Jews were killed -- is now more welcoming than many western European countries.

"When you take into account that Jews are being beaten up in the streets in Germany or France or Scandinavia, you even have synagogues being burned down, murders -- we don't have any of that," said Piotr Kadlcik, vice-president of the Jewish community of Warsaw, one of the country's biggest Jewish groups.

"I think that right now it's safer to walk around Warsaw in a yarmulke than it is in certain neighbourhoods in Paris."

On May 24, a man with a Kalashnikov rifle walked into a Jewish museum in Brussels and killed three people, while in July people protesting against Israel's military operation in Gaza clashed with riot police outside two Paris synagogues.

Incidents like that have created a climate of fear among Europe's Jews, even though some data from Jewish groups point to a decline last year in the number of anti-Semitic acts recorded in Britain and France.   Continued...

Visitors stand under the "Celestial Canopy", a reconstructed painted ceiling of a synagogue that once stood in Gwozdziec (present-day Ukraine), at the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw October 21, 2014, one week before the official opening of the core exhibition.     REUTERS/Kacper Pempel