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Reconciliation between Jews and Poles is possible

Published 29/09/2015

As a Jew whose family came to Northern Ireland from Poland in the early 20th century, I understand why the term "Polish" is unacceptable to describe the extermination camps such as Auschwitz, Treblinka and Sobibor - even though each was located on Polish soil.

They weren't conceived, set up or run by Poles. Indeed, a huge number of Poles were murdered by Nazi occupiers.

But those who object to the term "Polish concentration camps" need to be very careful not to airbrush out of history the anti-Semitism which thrived in Poland before, during and even after the Second World War.

Pre-war Poland instituted many measures against its large Jewish population, including restrictions on education and professions. The Nazi concentration camp at Majdanek is located no more than 15 minutes outside the city centre of Lublin - the city my own family hailed from.

While the heroic activities of individual Poles to save Jews from the Holocaust needs to be widely known and praised, the level of indifference and hostility towards the Jews by many Poles cannot be ignored, either.

Those who seek to defend Poland's record towards the Jews need also to acknowledge the killing of Jews by Poles once the war was over - including the 42 Jews who were murdered at Kielce in 1946. Also, the continuation of anti-Semitism during the communist period - even though the Jewish community was a small fraction of its former self.

While anti-Semitism of the far Right and far Left continues in Poland today, the country enjoys a much warmer relationship with the Jewish community than ever before.

The example of the Polish Pope, John Paul II, the first leader of the Catholic Church to visit a synagogue, illustrates that reconciliation between Jews and Poles is, indeed, possible and something to strive for.

AVRAHAM SENDER

London

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