Polish president met with representatives

of the American Jewish Committee

Report by Michal Kubicki

From the external service of Polish Radio

February 15, 2006


During a recent visit to the United States, Polish president Lech Kaczynski met with representatives of the American Jewish Committee. Since the fall of  communism in Poland in 1989, Polish authorities have made efforts towards improving ties with Jewish communities in Israel and the rest of the world.

There is a wide range of issues in Polish Jewish relations, including the role of Jews in the history of Poland, the place of the tiny Jewish community in Poland today, the preservation of Holocaust memorials in Poland and the restitution of former Jewish property.

Naturally, a meeting which president Lech Kaczynski had with the American Jewish Committee in Washington did not offer an opportunity to review of these issues, but according to all observers a good start has been made. It was the Polish president's first visit to the United States and of course his first meeting with representatives of a Jewish organization. Ewa Junczyk-Ziomecka, an undersecretary of state at the Presidential Chancellary, describes it as an important step in the Polish-Jewish dialogue.

The president acknowledged their efforts to build bridges and dialogue between Poland and Jewish communities in the world. The American Jewish Committee is an organization which supported Poland on many difficult issues, such as describing German concentration camps as Polish camps. Last year, after the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, they wrote an official statement which clarified this terrible mistake. Another issue on which they support Poland is the visa waiver programme which is expected by Polish citizens planning to visit the United States.

The Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich, who was invited to take part in the meeting, stresses a commitment of both sides to resolve whatever problems may exist.

The atmosphere of genuinely warm. There was a sense of two groups coming together to work towards a common goal. The issues discussed were of great concern to both sides such as the position of Israel and its relations with the EU. President Kaczynski spoke about the Jewish community in Poland today. There is a genuine desire to work together to resolve existing problems and to further deepen Polish-Jewish relations.

One of these problems concerns the restitution claims for property once owned by the Jewish people in Poland. The issue covers both communal property such as synagogues and cemetaries, and private property. Ewa Junczyk-Ziomecka told me that there is a genuine commitment on the part of the Polish authorities to tackle the issue.

President Kaczynski is aware of how difficult these problems are because he was the mayor of Warsaw and knows how complicated the situation is in Warsaw which was completely destroyed during World War II. The problem of the restitution of communal property is solved, there are the regulations in place and the process is under way. The restitution of private property is a much broader issue because it is the question of the restitution for all Polish citizens. The government is working on the problem and we expect that it will send its legislative proposals to parliament before the summer.

Ewa Junczyk-Ziomecka, an undersecretary of state at the Presidential Chancellary. Next month, a delegation of the American Jewish Committee will come to Warsaw to continue the discussions. The group will be also presented a progress report concerning the Museum of the History of Polish Jews which is to be built in Warsaw, a city which in the early decades of the 20th century, had Europe's largest Jewish community numbering 360 thousand.