An American Jewish Committee (AJC) delegation visited Warsaw this week to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Shapiro Silverberg AJC Central Europe Office. Launched in March 2017, AJC Central Europe is dedicated to seven Central European countries: Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Slovakia.

The Warsaw-based office, directed by Sebastian Rejak, promotes democratic values and transatlantic relations, enhances ties between Central European countries and Israel, and combats antisemitism and extremism. AJC has been one of the most active non-governmental organizations promoting democratic transformation in Central and Eastern Europe since the 1980s.

“The generosity of several AJC leaders has enabled us to expand exponentially our outreach in this region that is vital to the Jewish past and to the Jewish future,” said AJC CEO David Harris, who, together with AJC President Harriet Schleifer and AJC Central Europe Chair Steve Zelkowitz, led the 35-member delegation.

During the three-day visit, the AJC delegation met with Polish President Andrzej Duda, Undersecretary of State Paweł Jabłoński, U.S. Ambassador to Poland Mark Brzeziński, and Israeli Ambassador to Israel Yacov Livne, among other officials. 

“American Jewish Committee, including its Central Europe Office based in Warsaw for the last five years, is a close and trusted partner of Poland,” said Elżbieta Witek, speaker of the Sejm (Poland’s lower house of parliament), in a letter read at the gala dinner celebrating the AJC Central Europe anniversary. “AJC’s initiatives have to be highlighted in the area of strengthening transatlantic relations, building relations between our region of Europe and Israel, and countering all forms of extremism – hatred, discrimination, antisemitism.”

Michał Kamiński, Deputy Speaker of Poland’s Senate; Wojciech Kolarski, Secretary of State in the Chancellery of the Polish President; Michael Schudrich, Poland’s Chief Rabbi; Tomasz Miskiewicz, Poland’s Muslim Mufti; and 11 ambassadors, including the Israeli and Ukrainian envoys to Poland and the Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S., were among the dignitaries attending the gala dinner. In addition, at the dinner, the 12 members of Poland’s Community of Conscience, an AJC Central Europe initiative, were introduced. 

The AJC group visited Belzec, the infamous death camp in German-occupied Poland, where approximately 500,000 Jews were murdered by the Nazis in a ten-month period in 1942. AJC, in a unique partnership with the Polish government, led a project to preserve and memorialize the Belzec site by establishing The Belzec Museum and Memorial, which opened in 2004.

And the group met with Ukrainian refugees, and Polish volunteers assisting them, at the Hrebenne/Rawa Ruska border crossing, and at several refugee reception centers in Warsaw. AJC’s #StandWithUkraine Fund has raised more than $2.4 million for organizations providing direct relief to Ukrainian refugees, including Jews fleeing Ukraine, and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine. 

AJC Central Europe, directed today by Sebastian Rejak, a former Polish diplomat, was made possible by the generosity of John Shapiro, honorary AJC president, and his wife, Dr. Shonni Silverberg, as well as Harriet Schleifer, currently AJC president; Steven Zelkowitz, a member of AJC's Executive Council; and Gail Binderman, a member of AJC's Board of Governors.

In Warsaw, the Polish Council of Christians and Jews honored AJC CEO David Harris with its Man of Reconciliation award, in appreciation of his lifelong work to build bridges between faith and ethnic communities. The Council specifically mentioned dialogue with Muslims and the historic AJC-Muslim World League visit to Auschwitz in January 2020.

After concluding their visit to Poland, the delegation split into three groups to visit six other Central European countries – Estonia and Latvia, Czech Republic and Lithuania, Slovakia and Hungary – that also were visited in 2017, following the official opening of AJC Central Europe.

The March 2017 gala launching AJC Central Europe, held at the magnificent POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, was attended by more than 500 Polish government officials, diplomats, members of the media, and Jewish leaders from across Europe.

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