While Polish-Jewish relations have grown more and more friendly in Poland, Israel and the U.S., Poland has also been reaching out to Jews around the world. Recently the Polish Ambassador to France was interviewed by European Jewish News. In order to give you the complete picture of Polish-Jewish relations I present the following interview:
Interview With Jan Tombinski,
Polish Ambassador To France
By SHIRLI SITBON,
(European Jewish Press)
PARIS – The Polish government’s efforts at improving its relationship with the Jewish community are beginning to bear fruit.
In Paris last month the Polish Embassy organized the first ever Polish-Jewish festival to be held in the city. The event included concerts, debates and expositions, organized with the help of the institutions that promote Polish culture abroad.
Jan Tombinski, Ambassador of Poland to France, spoke to EJP about the relevance of the festival and the importance of highlighting Jewish history in Poland.
European Jewish Press: As the Polish Ambassador to France how important was it for you to participate in the launch of Paris’s Jewish festival?
Jan Tombinski: I feel it is more than important. For the past year we have been doing our best to promote Polish-Jewish culture. We want the public to understand it better, and for that reason we have been helping out in several festivals and cultural events.
Because pre-war Poland drew together so many different populations and cultures there is a kind of a mix between the Polish-Jewish culture and regular Jewish culture.
But although Polish-Jewish heritage is immense, it is still unknown to the majority of the public, so the Polish people feel a sort of vacuum.
The first attempt to create the Jewish culture festival a year ago didn’t pull through and we only organized a few concerts and debates. A few months ago we gave our contribution to a Jewish festival in Toulouse, an event that drew thousands of spectators and visitors. Our goal, since then, was to create the Jewish Festival of Paris, with a special honor given to Yiddish culture.
EJP: The Polish authorities seem to have recently opened up to the Jewish heritage. How has this happened and why?
J.T.: Such an open interest requires liberty, so it was impossible before 1989. Once we gained our freedom from Communism we started promoting different cultures.
For the Jewish culture we first used the few institutions that were already there: The Jewish Cultural Institute, Jewish Historical Institute, Jewish theatre, Yiddish newspapers and books.
Today, things are different in Poland. Jewish culture is not simply a Jewish-community interest anymore. Very few Jews live today in Poland compared to the 3.5 million who lived there before the war but non-Jewish associations are promoting Jewish culture because they feel it is essential to cherish that Polish heritage.
EJP: What kind of efforts are the Polish authorities playing in that battle against anti-Semitism, an intolerance that is becoming a major problem in Europe?
J.T.: I think Poland indeed has a role to play. For a long period in the past anti-Semitism was used to divide us and to weaken us. In Poland there is now mutual recognition. People just want to stop history from repeating itself. They don’t want to confront each other and they want to avoid seeing the hate movements we have known in the past.
The Polish institutions and media are watching out for anti-Semitic attitudes. They want to avoid them. But clichés have to be fought first. We always read in newspapers that “the Polish are anti-Semites” and clichés such as this are useless.
EJP: Do you think that promoting the Jewish culture can help fight against anti-Semitism?
J.T.: We all feel familiar with this heritage, because it’s part of our country’s heritage. We grew up with elements of the Jewish culture around us. The rabbi image for example is deeply implanted in our roots. You cannot dissociate the Jewish culture from the rest of the Polish heritage.
The division came afterwards, with intolerance. Prior to that, although not always, we have lived for centuries together in tolerance. Poland was the first European country to issue a legal act for tolerance, in 1572.
EJP: Do the Poles consider today’s Polish Jews as any other Polish citizen? Opinion polls show that intolerance is still there.
J. T.: Polish Jews are considered as Polish citizens. But, in all of our European societies, we are confronting a number of anti-Semitic acts – tags, insults.
In France, those anti-Semitic attacks are sometimes very violent, much more than in Poland. But even in France, anti-Semitic violence doesn’t mean that the Jews are excluded from society.
We shouldn’t jump to conclusions. Those actions are isolated and engage only the people who perpetrate them. We have to fight against that behavior, but we mustn’t generalize it to the whole of society.