Platform for Jewish-Polish Dialogue  

Non-Jewish Poles honored by The Israeli embassy in Poland
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.