– Where is it going?

For the first time in a long time I had a real two-week holiday. Virtually without the Internet or any other means of communication. While I was away, two things happened – one good and one bad.

A Polish-Jewish businessman residing in the US, Seweryn Aszkenazy, lost a lawsuit after he tried to sue Ms. Katarzyna Markusz, the head of


The authorities of the Jewish community in Warsaw and the Union of Jewish Religious Communities blocked her access to the website, of which she had been the administrator, without any explanation. It happened just before a new version of the website was launched, on which she had been working for months thanks to a grant she had applied for and received.

Let’s start with the lawsuit.

Seweryn Aszkenazy, who has been supporting the Judaic religious organization Beit Warszawa and Beit Polish for several years, decided to go to court after the article “Heritage? – I’ll take it ‘as is” php / en / wiadomopci-mainmenu-57/6015-heritage-ill-take-it-as-is.html was posted on the website. In the lawsuit, he accused the Author, Ms. Katarzyna Markusz, of infringement of his personal rights and providing false information.

In the conclusion of the trial that started in October 2014, the court dismissed all of Aszkenazy’s allegations, ordering him to cover the costs of the proceedings. The court also did not find any shortcomings in Ms. Katarzyna Markusz’s work as a journalist.
An interesting aspect of the trial was Aszkenazy’s testimony regarding the issue of him financing Mr. Nissan Tzur, former associate of Ma’ariv, Jerusalem Post and other Israeli media. Once the conclusion of the ruling and the minutes of Aszkenazy’s testimony are available in writing, another article will probably be written – the question remains where it will be published.

For unless some fundamental things change, it most certainly will not be published on

I am the founder of that website.

It was created in the early 1990s, with virtually hand-built servers, subsidized in turn by the ORT, the Ronald S Lauder Foundation, and the AJDC. Since its launching well over ten years ago, it has published thousands of articles and it was one of the first online sources of information on Polish Jews, religion, and the State of Israel. It was there, on, that another important source of information about Jews was born – namely the Forum of Polish Jews.

Serious journalists have written for the website.

The website has been developing freely, with various types of texts being posted– at times somewhat controversial. Until recently, none of the sponsors ever interfered with its content. Each polemist always had the right to retort. During all these years, not once did the website have to publish a dementi. What mattered was that the text was good, interesting and honest.

Until recently.

Last year, there was a change of the authorities of the Jewish Community in Warsaw and the Union of Jewish Religious Communities. The new authorities did not want to be a source of information, nor a website dedicated to journalism, but rather a place where they could be promoted.

First problems started during the debate on the location of the monument to the Righteous Among the Nations in front of Museum of the History of Polish Jews. At first it was subtle, but soon it was “suggested” that some topics better be avoided. The new authorities of the Jewish Community in Warsaw and the Union of Jewish Religious Communities banned any critical texts about the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, or the Mayor of Grodzisk Mazowiecki (where a private company wants to build an underground parking lot at the Jewish cemetery), as well as other ministries and local government.

In my youth we called it “censorship”.

Readers of must have noticed that in recent months the website has become a source of information in events past and future. It has ceased to be a place of controversy and discussion.

Now it has ceased to be at all.

I am writing these words feeling very bitter indeed.

The medium that has existed for years, funded by various organizations, representing a wide range of political views, was first reduced and then blocked without any consultation or explanation, by people who perhaps thanks to that very place learned what it means to be Jewish. They could benefit from that source of knowledge, produced through the effort of many people for many years. One that has been active on the “Jewish street” ceaselessly and much longer than they have.

Irish prosecutor looks at the Shoah

Born in 1960. Irish Catholic, wife, five children.
Graduate of College of William and Mary, second oldest institution of higher education after Harvard. PhD in law at Chicago Law School. He was involved as a prosecutor in the now legendary investigation against the Gambino family.

When in 2006 wiretapping of American citizens by the NSA was disclosed, he threatened to step down from the position of Deputy Attorney General unless the case was investigated. Rumour has it that on the desk in his study he keeps a framed copy of the FBI request to wiretap Martin Luther King – “as a reminder of the bureau’s capacity to do wrong.”


His speech at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington provoked enormous controversy in Poland. Listening to the statements of some politicians, one gets the impression that they would gladly see Polish Navy forces landing in Manhattan and laying siege there.

However, has the FBI director – one of the most important people in the Obama administration – really consciously accused Poles and Hungarians of responsibility for the Holocaust?

One thing is beyond any doubt – Director Comey does not know much about the Holocaust. And he could really use some of that knowledge.

In his speech, he asked the question: how was it possible that people like him, people who went to church and gave to charity, who were loving husbands and fathers, could do something like that? The only thing he can think of is a form of collective madness that others followed. This – in my opinion – is the most serious of his mistakes.

The concept of a nation that followed a handful of lunatics was wildly criticised and contested in Germany back in the seventies. They expressed that view explicitly – we are responsible as a nation. Do contemporary Germans think alike – well, that is different matter.

Next, Comey’s vision of the Holocaust starts resembling “a promising case”, as some investigators might say. Murderers of Germany, and after that – accomplices of Poland, Hungary and many other countries.

True, mentioning the Shoah, Germans, Hungarians and Poles in the same breath, and then referring to “many others” in that rather vaguely worded sentence could provoke some negative reactions. But were they proportional to the magnitude of Comey’s mistake?

Poles are not responsible for the Holocaust. Just as Poland is not an anti-Semitic country.
But just as we did indeed have (and still do) anti-Semites in Poland, there were also those who, in the prosecutorial sense, became “accomplices” – even though they did not kill any Jew personally. Their involvement in the killing earned them benefits such as a litre of spirit, some sugar, or, in the worst case, the clothes of the murdered victims.

There were others, actively involved; the Arrow Cross Party in Hungary, Hlinkova Garda in Slovakia, The Ustaše, Lithuanian Riflemen’s Union (šauliai), the Iron Guard, or the Pétain police. There was even the Polish “blue” police, we now know quite a lot about the role they played on the peripheries of the Shoah. And, in my opinion, it is irrelevant that they did not have a mandate to operate from Polish government, unlike in Hungary, Slovakia and France.

In fact, it is worse – the former State Police, whose task was to protect the citizens against lawlessness, spontaneously took to hunting Jews – fellow citizens. And not just the Jews. The Ulma family, Righteous Among the Nations whose fate is often mentioned, were betrayed and given to the Germans by none other than a “blue” policeman.
“Please accept as a fact that the overwhelming majority of the country is anti-Semitic […]. The only difference is the tactical conduct […]. Anti-Semitism is now a widespread attitude.”

This is not an excerpt from Comey’s speech. These are the words of General Grot-Rowecki. How do we respond to them today?

It is true that the Director could use one more visit to the Holocaust Museum. A study trip to Poland would probably not hurt him, either. But let us think for a moment – perhaps before we begin to fill the gaps in the education of others, we should take a look at our own history.

Sine ira et studio (without anger and without fondness).

I will conclude with a poem.
One that has accompanied me for a long time – and not many have, I am ashamed to admit. It was written by Zuzanna Ginczanka (Gincburg). She wrote these lines before her death. Betrayed and given to the Germans by the landlady with whom she was staying. One of those “accomplices of Poland”.

Non omnis moriar. My grand estate—
Tablecloth meadows, invincible wardrobe castles,
Acres of bedsheets, finely woven linens,
And dresses, colorful dresses—will survive me.
I leave no heirs.
So let your hands rummage through Jewish things,
You, Chomin’s wife from Lvov, you mother of a volksdeutscher.
May these things be useful to you and yours,
For, dear ones, I leave no name, no song.
I am thinking of you, as you, when the Schupo came,
Thought of me, in fact reminded them about me.
So let my friends break out holiday goblets,
Celebrate my wake and their wealth:
Kilims and tapestries, bowls, candlesticks.
Let them drink all night and at daybreak
Begin their search for gemstones and gold
In sofas, mattresses, blankets and rugs.
Oh how the work will burn in their hands!
Clumps of horsehair, bunches of sea hay,
Clouds of fresh down from pillows and quilts,
Glued on by my blood, will turn their arms into wings,
Transfigure the birds of prey into angels.

translated from the Polish by Nancy Kassell and Anita Safran

I have been coming to Auschwitz for years

I have a very vivid recollection of my first visit to the Auschwitz Museum, sometime in the late eighties, witha group of Yad Vashem researchers.

After that, I remember more meetings, discussions, walking, talking. We got to know the exhibition, the fields of Birkenau, areas unavailable for study groups, archives, and maintenance areas.

I had good mentors along the way – Wanda Hutny, whom I met when she helped me borrow a white and red flag from the Museum for a group of Polish Jews who took part in the first March of the Living; Mr. Stanisław Mączka, who even in those years always remembered that Jews died in the camp, and who was particularly fascinated with numbers – the number of strands of barbed wire, poles, distances and dimensions – there was something almost Kabbalistic about it.

And then I remember a conversation with a young historian – medievalist and author of the work on Bruno of Querfurt, surprised to be offered the position of the Director of the largest commemoration of the Holocaust. I encouraged him to accept the job offer. Today, seeing how much the Museum has changed and is still changing, I’m glad even if it migh be somewhat megalomaniac of me to think that I had my part in it. Mr. Mączka would probably have thought that this choice was obvious – this year, Piotr’s birthday fall on Yom haShoah – the Holocaust Rememberence Day.

Our friendship made me even more involved in the affairs of the Museum. Thanks to him, I met Dagmar and Agnieszka, who introduced me to the world of sub-camps – remnants of barracks in Monowitz, Jawiszowice, Budy – everything that their foundation is doing.

I thought I saw it all.
I was mistaken.


Of course I had known about Harmęże. That it was one of the first sub-camps, fabout fish ponds, Tadeusz Borowski. What I had not known was that it was also the entrance to the maze created by prisoner number 432.

I spent far too short a time at Marian Kołodziej’s exhibition – a little more than an hour. In order for the mind and sight to embrace the world he drew, one would probably need to stay there for hours. And I will most likely return there. I visited this maze just before the Day of Remembrance of the Holocaust.
I am not going to describe the exhibition, simply because it would be virtually impossible to do that. There are pictures, subsequent editions of albums, but absolutely nothing can be as effective as descending into the icy Franciscan church basements.


The world of the Holocaust. Heaps of corpses and hal-dead people. The land where neat appearance and a corpulent figure are the signs of evil and corruption. Where the only elegant things are uniforms with skull-and-crossbones badge. The world drawn by prisoner number 432.

I am a Jew.

I lost virtually my entire family on my mother’s side in the Holocaust. When in a few days, as every year, I’ll be standing in front of the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes, I’ll be thinking about them and remember them – and it is not just a figure of speech. I will wonder who I would be, where I would live, what family I would have if not that which we, Jews, will never forget.
Even without a day such as this.

A Toast To The Elections In Israel

A glass of wine for the welfare of the State of Israel after the recent elections to the Knesset.

2015-03-26Mona 001
When I first went to Israel in the eighties, I bought a T-shirt as a souvenir. Featured on it was Yitzhak Shamir and an Indian chief (feathers, painted face, pipe in hand).
The chief says to Shamir:
“Yitzhak, let me tell you what happens when you exchange land in return for peace.”
L’chaim to those who decided in the election that they have had enough of being Indians!

How Many Jewish Violinists Are There In Your Band?

In an anecdote popular in the seventies, a Soviet conductor argued with his colleague from New York, saying that since he had seven Jewish violinists in his orchestra, there was no anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union. The New York conductor did not know how many Jews there were in his group.

And so it should be.

It was with sincere satisfaction that I noticed the lack of response to the dirty little hints regarding the background of the current First Lady, dropped from time to time by the media. No reaction from the media inclined me to think that there is such a thing as principled journalism, after all. Acquired cynicism would rather suggest a tacit agreement that certain things are not to be written about. It does not matter – what is important was the end result.

This is probably why I was so surprised by the article in Newsweek (after all, a serious magazine) that brought attention to the family background of the candidate for the next First Lady with all the grace of an elephant at the Ming china exhibition.


It was my first surprise – another came with the media storm the article provoked.
To be clear – I do not think the authors of the piece are anti-Semites – I do not know them, nor do I think that pointing out someone is Jewish is a sign of anti-Semitism. For me, such type of classification is qualitatively the same as the “grandfather in the Wehrmacht” argument – no less, no more. Both opinions attest to similar qualities of the character of those who voice them.

The article was not written by anti-Semites, but in my opinion its objective was to draw the attention of potential voters to such an element of the candidate’s biography that could induce them to change their minds.

And that is simply disgusting.

Also distasteful is the media storm (although the phrase “shitstorm” seems more appropriate in this case), which broke out as a result of the Newsweek article. Ignoring the media “fart” would have drastically reduced the extent of its range, and the racket raised in the media – both in support and against the case – warranted only one thing – that the comments about the non-Aryan origins of the potential First Lady have now reached everyone – even those who do not buy Newsweek.

At this point I should wonder why some publications are consistently silenced, while others become a nationwide sensation, but I’d rather leave that to the readers of this text and their own imagination.

I just wonder whether we ever come to a point where the origin of the violinist will be of a lesser importance than the quality of his performance.

Photo: Frame from the film “Fiddler on the Roof” (1971)

Synagogue burned “in protest”

If not for Bobby Brown (my long-time friend, former advisor to the Prime Minister of Israel, happy Father and Grandfather living in the area called by some the “occupied territories”, which I call Judea and Samaria), I would have most likely missed this story.
Here it is: in the city of Wuppertal, three Palestinian Arabs – now German citizens – threw Molotov cocktails at the local synagogue. It was not the first time the synagogue in Wuppertal was set aflame – the previous one ceased to exist as a result of the Kristallnacht.

The German judge sentenced the perpetrators to 200 hours of community service and gave them suspended sentences. The explanatory memorandum stated that their act was not anti-Semitic in character but that it was only “an attempt to draw attention to the conflict in Gaza.”
Such judgment terrified me.
I think, moreover, that it terrified me far more than first similar judgments that German Jews heard in the thirties. After all, the synagogue in Wuppertal was not set on fire as a result of anti-Semitic riots at the time. It was only the people’s “protest against usury and profiteering.”
I think that it pained the German Jews to hear such judgment, but they had faith that judge’s madness would quickly be fixed. They were, after all, good citizens, they had fought for Germany in the First World War. They paid their taxes. They did not know that the Holocaust was coming. They did not know that about half of the participants of the Wansee conference would have the title of Doctor of Laws.
I do know all those things – and this is why the judgment terrifies.
I did not learn about it from mainstream media, as it was only mentioned in the Jewish press. Also surprising is the silence of the German media. The absurdity of the judge’s decision should be noticed and remonstrated by everyone – and it does not matter that the courts are independent. Not in this case.
I always wondered when was it that the German Jews realized that it was time to flee. It seems to me that it was not until they realized that they could not count on fair judges – the same for which we pray in 18 benedictions.
Does the Wuppertal judgment mean it is now time for the Jews to pack suitcases?

Stolperstein for the Righteous

This story starts with my Grandma.
I always called Her that way – even after I found that she’s not my biological Grandmother but a Righteous Gentile who saved my Mother from Shoah.

My Mother and my Grandmother

I will not go through the entire story (waiting list in eighties at Jewish Historical Institute, screaming on Yad Vashem staff by Jurek / Itamar – another Jew saved by Grandma), but at the end, at one of schools in Warsaw took place a ceremony and Grandma was finally awarded.
Later on, as a President of Jewish Community of Warsaw I had a privilege to speak during many other ceremonies.
I have to admit, that these speeches were always very simple – I have always said that whatever we Jews will do for Righteous – it will not be enough.
We did what we could – Community support for Association of Righteous, Social Care System help the as well – I guess, it is not enough – but we did what we could.
Then the concept of the Righteous Memorial came into being – various initiatives (Righteous parks in Lodz and Warsaw) – but seemingly that was not enough.

My Grandfather and my Mother

Being a practical person, I always thought that a medical facility, system of (even small) pensions, or a project of co-financing stays of needy Righteous at old age homes will be a better concept – but in Poland – a proper memorial is a right thing to erect.
As to my knowledge, two memorials are planned – one on beautifully restored Grzybowski Square (joined project of municipality and government) and another – near the Museum of History of Polish Jews by the Rememberance and Future Foundation.
I will not jump into the discussion about creating a ghetto of Jewish monuments within the Warsaw Ghetto itself – I will only say, that erecting the monument for Righteous at the place where their efforts failed is actually not a right thing to do.
But – no memorial for Righteous?

Names of my Grandparents – Maria and Janusz Cholewicki at Yad Vashem

When I become interested in various forms of memorialization the Shoah I came across the Stumbling block (Stolperstein) project that actually fascinated me. Small plaques with a few words describing events or people, embedded into the sidewalks or walls. There is no doubt, that a modest plaque with the inscription “In this house Jan Kowalski hide a family of three – Itzik Blum, his wife Sarah and three years old Haveleh” would not be so impressive as a monumental sculpture near monumental building, but if these plaques could be counted by dozens? Thousands perhaps? And if the educational project based on this modest plaque would be created for the local communities – inhabitants of the street, a neighborhood? What about a challenging task like that – for the Museum and other Polish educational institutions?
Is this not better than yearly wreath placed at the monument on the Righteous Day? I know that there is no such day yet, but when memorial will be erected – it will be just a matter of time.
But a stumbling block have also disadvantages.
The person that will stumble upon it may see the world from a different perspective and perhaps get some bruises from the fall. When I wanted to convince to this project one of the officials, I heard : “We would have to place a guard near each plaque” .
I am not sure about that, but without a carefully planned educational program, the stumbling block concept would be totally useless. We are all aware of the fact, that the history of Saviors and Saved was not a black-and-white. We know that in some cases even today the relatives are unaware of the Righteous heroism. Blackmailers (Schmaltzovniks), neighbors, Polish police or “forest boys” were common threat for the Righteous and while we will research their past, we will also stumble upon them. No monument, regardless how tall, will not deal with this aspect of Righteous history.
I have no doubts – watching news releases and discussion forums, a recent debate at the Museum of History of Polish Jews or involvement of Presidential Palace – I am certain, there will be another monument (or monuments ) in town soon. Will it help us in paying a respect to heroic people acting in hostile environment, or it will be a proper slab to place sizable white-and-red or blue-and-white wreaths.


Anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau

This year, I did not go to Auschwitz.
Perhaps I was a little afraid that the shofar would not sound like it should before an audience of several thousand – as we know, shofar is a mystical instrument and as such it has a mind of its own. Maybe I thought that my absence will go unnoticed among thousands of people, or perhaps because I prefer to experience Auschwitz in solitude.
Probably all of these reasons were true.

The ceremony will take place in a giant tent, constructed specially for the occasion and set at the gate leading to Birkenau. This is extremely important because of the Survivors – they should never have to stand for a roll-call in the cold. The rest will be spared the question that I asked myself at almost every anniversary – how did they managed to withstand minus 30 degrees centigrade in a thin striped uniform.
It is good that there will be no speeches – by presidents, prime ministers and other Very Important People. The voice of the Survivors will thus be heard better.
It is good that the ceremony will be simple and free from politics. Debates on the “Polish concentration camps” or lists of uninvited or those offended by lack of invitation should remain behind the camp gate.
We also should not attempt to ask: how was that possible? “People brought that fate upon people …”
The Holocaust can be weighed, measured, catalogued, described – but never understood. Understanding the Holocaust is to lose a little bit of humanity, a little bit of soul.
Do not be fooled with the phrase “the banality of evil.” Evil is not banal – this is its nature.
Let us remember the living. The Survivors and employees of the Museum, bound by their shared desire to keep us from forgetting. It is on their determination and dedication that our remembering depends. The tent will be dismantled, the guests will go home, and they will go on maintaining memory, concrete, and celluloid.
May the end of the anniversary not be the end of remembering for us.

Notes on the Constitutional Tribunal’s ruling on religious slaughter

Well, I’m happy.
Because the Constitutional Tribunal ruled that the ban on religious slaughter is unconstitutional.
Because at a time when anti-Jewish excesses of hooligans, acts of vandalism or “Hindu symbols of happiness” are no reason to be outraged according to the prosecutor’s office, it is a good sign – both for Jews and for the Polish Republic.

Because – and it is purely personal satisfaction – the initiatives of the previous Board of the Association of Jewish Communities which I presided were successful.
Because – in accordance with the decision we made at the time – neither repeated lobbying among the MPs nor legal actions before the EU Tribunal ever took place, and, contrary to what was suggested, we focused on activities in Poland.
Because we managed to separate commercial issues from religious in this dispute.
Because this was the right way, as it turns out.
As people, we make choices.
We decide to become vegetarian or eat meat for reasons of health or religious beliefs – but we should have the right to make such decisions independently.
In conclusion, I would like to thank the members of the previous Board of the Association who participated in the process for their support and efficiency in action.
This has been your success, too.

Opening of the core exhibition at the Museum of the History of Polish Jews

On October 28, the core exhibition at Museum of the History of Polish Jews was opened. This place should become a path to knowledge. We often talk about the history of the Jews as something that began in 1939 and ended in 1943. Marian Turski once showed me a 10 złoty banknote. On the one side, it features the first Polish king, and on the other – the first Polish coin. If it is Polish coin, every Pole should be able to read what is written on it. However, the inscription is in the Hebrew alphabet.

With Artur Hofman, Jewish Community Day at the MHPJ, October 26, 2014

I think it’s important to remember that our shared Polish-Jewish history has been linked since Ibrahim ibn Jakub, who first wrote about Poland until this day and us who live here now.
The core exhibition the Museum of the History of Polish Jews is of utmost importance.
Developing it took a long time. It is at least as important that the infrastructure of the Museum will be used as an extensive learning center that will create programs for both Poles and Jews.
The events in Poland after 1989 caused not so much that the Jews came back so much as that they became visible. The MHPJ is a symbol of this visibility – the memory and the present.