Last week Pope Benedict XVI went to Poland to honor his predecessor, Pope John Paul II. His visit reportedly brought out heightened feeling of nationalism – and in some cases, anti-Semitism – in Poland.

In the most flagrant act of anti-Semitism, Rabbi Michael Schudrich was attacked on Shabbat morning as he was leaving the synagogue. The attacker shouted “Poland for Poles,” as he punched the rabbi and sprayed him with pepper spray. Rabbi Schudrich was not harmed and the attacker got away, despite the synagogue’s 24-hour security.

This was the first time in 15 years that Rabbi Schudrich has been physically attacked, although anti-Semitic remarks have been directed at him in the past.

The pope, on his arrival Thursday, passed through the area of the Warsaw Ghetto and past the Ghetto Monument, but did not stop and meet survivors and Poles who had helped save Jews, as he was scheduled to do. News reporters had gathered at the site to report live on the occasion, and seemed shocked when the motorcade drove by without slowing down.

On Sunday, when the pope visited Auschwitz-Birkenau, he publicly addressed the Jewish issue. He recalled the horrors of the Holocaust and wondered how God could have let it happen.

Unlike the visit of John Paul II to Auschwitz, there was little controversy. The issue of a cross at Auschwitz was not mentioned, and there was nothing like the provocative picture of the chief rabbi complaining to the pope, as on that former occasion. (There had been a widely published picture of Rabbi Joskowitch making a pointed gesture to the pope that many believe led to the rabbi’s resignation.)

In addition to the pope’s prayers for the victims of the German atrocities committed at Auschwitz-Birkenau, there was also a Kel-Maleh recited by Simcha Keller of Lodz, and a Kaddish recited by Rabbi Schudrich.

That the pope seemed generally friendly and open to all people was the popular feeling among those present, although it was pointed out that there was no mention of anti-Semitism or any call for its end.

The Catholic Radio station Radio Maria has long been considered a vehicle of anti-Semitism in the country, and recently the Polish government appointed Roman Giertych as minister of education. Mr. Giertych is a member of a far-right party whose members have a long history of anti-Semitism.

Rabbi Schudrich warned that the inclusion of Giertych and his party in the government will give new strength to anti-Semites. Such warnings were deflected by Prime Minister Kazmirierz Marcinkiewicz when he met with the Israeli ambassador, David Peleg. Marcinkiewicz said, “Bringing representatives of the All-Polish Youth into the government could give the impression that the Polish government will tolerate racism and xenophobia. This is not only false, but it will be absolutely condemned.”

On Monday, Polish President Lech Kaczynski expressed regret to Rabbi Schudrich over the Shabbat attack During their meeting at the presidential palace, the president said he would stand up to anti-Semitism and that Poland was an open, democratic society.


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