Non-Jewish Poles honored by The
Israeli embassy in Poland
By Ruth E. Gruber
ROME, July 8 (JTA) -- The Israeli embassy to Poland has honored more
than twenty non-Jewish Poles for their work in helping to preserve and
protect Jewish cemeteries, synagogues and other sites of Jewish heritage.
Israel's Ambassador to Poland, Yigal Antebi, handed out framed
certificates of appreciation and books about Israel to the honorees at
a ceremony held in Krakow on Sunday, at the conclusion of that city's
annual Festival of Jewish culture.
Among the people honored was Janusz Makuch, who founded the Krakow Festival
of Jewish Culture in 1988, when Poland was still under communism.
Receiving a special honor was Jan Jagielski, who helped found the
grassroots Citizens Committee for the Protection of Cemeteries and
Monuments of Jewish Culture in Poland in 1981 and now is an expert at
the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw.
Others included individuals from towns and cities, big and small, all
over the country -- Bialystok, Tykocin, Lublin, Pinczow, Bransk, and others
-- who have spent years carrying out work on a mainly voluntary basis.
They have restored and documented abandoned Jewish cemeteries, written
books and pamphlets on local Jewish history, seen that memorial plaques
were placed on former synagogues, and worked to establish Jewish museums
or Jewish departments in other museums.
Recognizing them was the idea of Michael Traison, a Jewish lawyer from
Detroit who has spent much of his time carrying out legal work for his
firm in Poland since the fall of communism.
"These people," Traison told JTA "are ordinary people who
have gone beyond the call of duty in making efforts to preserve Jewish
memory in Poland in one or more of a variety of ways including cemetery
preservation, journals of history, creating homemade museums, acting to
protect Jewish sites and the like. My idea was to say thanks to the honorees
and to encourage them in their work."
He said he wanted to get across three messages.
"First was to thank the people for what they have done and are doing,"
he said. "But also, we want to tell the Jewish world that there are
Poles who are caring for Jewish places. And we also want to tell Poles
that there are Jews who appreciate it."
Traison personally met the people who were honoring during his
frequent trips around Poland to visit synagogues, cemeteries, museums,
and Holocaust memorial sites. "There are many other people who do this, too, and I want to have
such a ceremony every year," he said.
The ceremony received ample coverage in the Polish media, including television.
But at the same time an incident in the southern city of Rzeszow
showed another face of Poland. A new memorial to Jewish Holocaust victims
in the city, which was dedicated last week, was defaced by anti-Semitic
graffiti over the weekend.
City officials in Rzeszow, however, responded quickly to the vandalism
and took steps to clear the monument.