The Statesmen’s Forum
AJC Global Forum 2013
June 2, 2013
The American Jewish Committee has been a huge friend
You were right there with us, as we re-joined the
West, institutionally NATO and then the European Union.
We noticed and we remember. Thank you from the bottom
of my heart.
Now let’s make things better for our people. We
appreciate your continuing support for Poland’s membership in the US Visa
Beyond that, Warsaw and Washington have plenty to do
together, especially in three areas.
Europe has unfinished business. Ideas and policies
that won the Cold War are under pressure, especially to the East of our
Dictatorship in Belarus. Corruption in Ukraine. Frozen
conflicts in the southern Caucasus.
EU/US teamwork and leadership remain the only way to
make a difference. We need to stand tall – to be proud of what makes us strong,
prosperous and stable.
security cooperation sends its own signal.
were in command of an International Division in Iraq.
had a brigade in Ghazni, one of the tough provinces in southern Afghanistan.
have welcomed a permanent aviation detachment of US air force. A missile
defense SM-3 base in Poland will help secure the US, Poland and other European
allies from any Iranian missile threat.
US-Poland economic relations are growing fast. Over
the last decade our trade grew almost three-fold.
The US is a major investor in Poland. What goes
around, comes around. Polish companies are starting to invest here.
New opportunities will come with the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.
Yes, Asia is booming. But let’s keep an eye on the
hard facts. Economic relations between the US
and EU generate half of the planet’s GDP. Between 2010 and 2012 US companies invested 6 times
more in Ireland than in China.
Let’s press home this global advantage, and take the
relationship to a bold new level.
A new free trade space between Europe and the US will
be a defining force in global trade and politics for the rest of this century.
Immediate political interests come and go. It’s
partnerships based on shared values and instincts that count.
That’s why Poland has promoted the new European
Endowment for Democracy, modeled on its highly successful US counterpart. Poland
is the seat of the Permanent Secretariat of Community of Democracies. I will
shortly announce the first International Solidarity Prize.
Poland has transformed itself in the past 20 years. We
know all about transitions. What works, and what doesn’t.
I want to see Washington and Warsaw working closely
together to export this dynamic ‘technology of transition’ to Eastern Europe,
North Africa and Central Asia.
Ladies and Gentlemen
Today I want to use this opportunity to talk today about what only
seemingly is beyond big picture policy.
I want to talk about people. The Jewish community in Poland. First, it’s
jump in a time-machine, and go back 80 years.
back to early June 1933.
123 years of disastrous foreign rule, Poland is back on the map of Europe. We
are reasserting ourselves as an independent country. We had won the 1920 war
against Bolshevik Russia.
we are now in the grip of the Great Depression. Our GDP has dropped by a
staggering 50 %.
We live in a bad neighbourhood.
the West there’s Adolf Hitler, newly installed as Germany’s Chancellor in
the Reichstag Fire in February, Hitler has rammed through the infamous Enabling Act. He has almost
the East there’s Jozef Stalin.
far from Warsaw in neighbouring Ukraine, his insane collectivisation policies
are starving millions of Europeans. Cases of cannibalism are reported.
distinguished predecessor as Foreign Minister, August Zaleski, is President of
the Polish-American Chamber of Commerce.
us imagine that the American Jewish Committee of 1933 kindly invites him to
make a presentation on Poland and Europe.
he were here instead of me, in 1933, he might start by saying just how large
and dynamic and successful the Jewish community has become.
centuries the borders of the Polish political space have moved to and fro, but
within those borders Jewish communities have flourished.
have reminded the AJC that Jewish soldiers fought for Poland’s freedom.
1918 tens of thousands of Jews had moved to the new Poland, to escape
persecution in Soviet Russia.
in 1933, he would have said, Poland has the largest Jewish community in Europe.
tenth of Poland’s population is Jewish – some 3 million people.
is the world’s second largest Jewish centre after New York.
schools are booming, many state-sponsored. There are 600 newspapers published
in Hebrew and Yiddish. 15 Jewish theatres. Movies in Yiddish are part of our
wider cultural life. Jewish political parties from right to left have their say
in Polish political life.
1933, Zaleski could have said: Poland is offering Jews hope of surviving both
the Nazi and Soviet persecutions.
was the good news.
Zaleski is honest. He would have addressed uglier issues.
1933 the sheer success of the Jewish community and the prevalence of Yiddish is
aroused noisy hostility. Anti-semitism is a widespread attitude all over Europe
and Poland is not exempt.
But Zaleski would have assured the AJC, that Poland’s leader,
Marshal Pilsudski may not be a Jeffersonian democrat, but he stands firm
against this crass populism.
would have reassured the AJC that Poland’s Jewish community is part of Poland’s
very identity. Like Poland itself, it will grow from strength to strength.
insisted that what counts is loyalty to Poland, not a citizen’s language or
strong, honourable stand resonated among Jews in Poland and elsewhere. Polish
and Jewish donors pooled their money and bought a plot of land in British
Palestine for Pilsudski. The certificate is still on display in the President’s
palace in Warsaw.
AJC are campaigning to stop anti-Semitic ideas getting a foothold also here in
minister Zaleski and AJC might have appealed against political extremism, for
America’s greater involvement on behalf of friends and allies and, last but not
least, liberalizing travel restrictions.
the appeals went unheeded. Six years later, Hitler and Stalin attacked Poland.
and Poles fought side by side.
September 2, 1939, the Rabbis of Poland made an appeal:
“Let us praise
the name of the Eternal.
Jews, children of this land since time immemorial, stand in battle array, ready
and waiting for Mr. President of the Republic of Poland and Supreme Commander
to call us to defend our beloved Homeland at our posts and, if necessary,
sacrifice our lives and our worldly possessions unreservedly at the altar of our
Some 2000 Polish Jews were among 21,000
officers murdered by Stalin at Katyn, including the Chief Rabbi of the Polish
could not defend all of its citizens from foreign predators.
million Polish citizens died in WW2. What does that number mean?
lost almost three thousand people, a 9/11, each
day, for six years.
million Polish Catholics and 3 million Polish Jews, which means that 90 % of
Catholics survived and 90 % of Jews perished. Because Polish Jews were first
and Polish Catholics the second in the
line for extermination.
great, fine Jewish community was almost obliterated.
they set about their ghastly work, the Nazis passed laws - laws unique to
Poland - sentencing to death anyone who protected Jews. Thousands were executed
for trying to save their Jewish compatriots.
courage of people who defied this madness humbles us. I am proud to say that
the greatest number of names of Rightecious among Nations of Yad Vashem and
here at the Holocaust Museum, are Polish.
It is said that our part of the world produces more history than can
be consumed locally. It also produces extraordinary biographies.
Kpt. Witold Pilecki deliberately
got himself arrested in 1940 and sent to Auschwitz, to gather intelligence on
what was happening there.
His reports were smuggled to the West by the underground and presented
to Prime Minister Churchill and President Roosevelt, but they would not believe
Or act upon them.
Pilecki was at Auschwitz for two years. He then escaped and joined the
Warsaw Uprising.He survived, joined the
Polish army in Italy and volunteered to go back to Communist-dominated Poland
Unbelievably, this hero was given a show trial and executed - let’s say
judicially murdered - in 1947 by the Soviet-imposed communist authorities
Poland’s Chief Rabbi
Michael Schudrich has put it:
When God created the
human being, God had in mind that we should all be like Captain Witold Pilecki
Pilecki was a Polish Catholic. But Polish-Jewish heroism could be
A teenager from Łódź
was sent on cattle cars to Treblinka in the last days of 1942.
He escaped from
the train, and was helped by a Polish peasant.
In April 1943,
in the Polish underground he attacked German troops from outside the Warsaw
ghetto. As a member of an elite unite of the Polish Home Army, under the
nom-de-guerre “Rysiek”, he liquidated Nazi collaborators in the streets of
August 1944 he again joined the fight, this time in the Warsaw Rising.
the Soviets entered Poland in 1945 he escaped the country and joined the Polish
Second Corps in Italy, which was part of allied forces”.
in 1947, he left for Palestine. He fought for Israel in the 1948 war of
independence. Mobilized several more times, he fought in the Yom Kippur.
Pilecki, this man was a freedom
fighter on an almost superhuman scale. “Rysiek” did not give up in that
cattle truck, that would have taken him to Treblinka. He has not given up yet.
His real name
is Stanislaw Aronson, Colonel of the Polish army, colonel of the Israeli army,
and he has travelled from Tel Aviv especially to be with us tonight.
celebrate a hero. From
this platform let me say “thank you” to Stanisław Aronson.
Thank you for what you and so many others did to
fight for Poland and for the cause of freedom.
Thank you for what you did to help us all be
together, free, here today.
have learned the hardest possible lesson from this disaster. Today we invest in
our national defence a steady 1,95 % of GDP and work as closely as we can with
our allies, above all the United States.
How about Poland’s relations with Israel?
With the Cold War behind us, Poland and Israel are
working out their own political, economic, cultural and let’s even call them
And I am pleased to tell you that on every count our bilateral
relations are good and strong.
Israeli visits to Poland are shooting up.
Israeli citizens are regaining personal links with
Poland and even Polish citizenship. Last year we issued 2000 new Polish
passports in Tel Aviv.
Israel have good close military and intelligence cooperation. We Poles know that like Poland
in the 1930s, Israel today lives in a difficult neighbourhood.We both learnt in the 20th century
that when our enemies say they want to exterminate you, it is prudent to
is struggling with its transition from dictatorship. Hamas is a terrorist
is a humanitarian disaster. The motives and policies of Iran are dangerous.
anti-semitic rantings from certain Islamic clerics are a special disgrace.
Nations in particular should be doing a lot more to condemn them.
out when and how to manage these strategic threats in a way is a top priority
for Israel’s leaders.
one thing to face grave, even existential threats.
another thing to respond wisely and well, 100% of the time.
am sure that within the AJC you have vigorous exchanges on Israel’s policy dilemmas.
the European Union, these debates can be tough.
doesn’t- and need not - support everything Israel does to maintain its
security, or its handling of Palestinian issues.
don’t support the Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories.
we completely reject and resist Islamic extremism.
soldiers continue their mission in Afghanistan, as proudly as they did in Iraq.
policy on Israel is principled and unambiguous.
Poland affirms Israel’s right to exist within secure borders.
Poland affirms Israel’s right to defend itself.
what happened in WW2 to Poland and to the Jewish community in Poland and across
Europe, no-one should expect today’s Israel to sit meekly and wait to be
wise Israel will think about helping the Palestinians achieve the same.
Let me conclude.
Poland today is free. Strong. And getting stronger.
freedom comes great responsibility.
Part of this responsibility lies in making sure that
today’s Jewish community in Poland is safe, welcome and respected.
Across Poland - most notably in Cracow but in other
towns and cities too - Jewish festivals and events are establishing themselves.
We support today’s Poland’s Jewish community.
We honour Poland’s historic Jewish community. Not just for how
it died. But for how it lived, and how it is coming back to life.
In Warsaw in April a new museum opened its doors,
the Museum of the History of Polish Jews.
This museum has been built in the heart of the
former Warsaw Ghetto area on land donated by the city of Warsaw.
The building has been paid for from Polish public
It’s going to be a world-class centre for Jewish
history and culture.
I expect that some of you here have generously
supported this fine project. Thank you for that.
We all draw new strength from our heroes. We accept
the responsibility that our hard-won freedom gives us.
To remember, and to learn.
To build, and to look to a future.