The relationship between Polish people and Jewish people have been tense at times.

For example, there was a strong disagreement in recent years between the governments of Israel and the Poland regarding memorialization of the Holocaust.

It is time to put aside the past tensions and to say a big “thank you” to the Polish people – and to those from other countries – for their willingness to take in refugees from Ukraine.

There’s no doubt in my mind that most people in Poland, particularly those in the larger cities of Warsaw and Kraków, absolutely hate the Russian government. Their hatred of the Russian government is perhaps only second to their hatred of the Nazis who occupied them so brutally.

Poles feel that in the aftermath of World War II, the Soviet Union devastated their country, depriving it of its assets and its ability to govern itself and flourish economically.

In the center of Warsaw is a building called the “Palace of Culture and Science.” It was built by the Russians as a so-called “gift” to the people of Poland during their occupation.

Originally, the name of the building was “Joseph Stalin’s Palace of Culture and Science.” After Stalin died, his name was removed from the building. Today, it is the sixth tallest building in the European Union.

In 1992, on my first trip to Warsaw, I saw the “palace” for the first time. As we passed, I noticed that there was a lot of commerce going on in the plaza on one side of the building.

I remember asking the Polish guide what was going on? His response was that shortly after the fall of communism in Poland, a flea market, the ultimate symbol of capitalism, had arisen. It was created not by the government but by the people, as a way in which the Poles tried to “answer” what that building had come to symbolize.

Poles have a clear historical memory of the terror and lack of freedom that goes with being conquered by a tyrannical country.

Already, one million people have fled Ukraine, with nearly 400,000 Ukrainian refugees making their way to Poland. Often, those fleeing are being met at the border by the citizens of the country of refuge who are bringing them food, water, warm clothing, diapers and more.

Current estimates are that if this conflict continues much longer, then there will be five to seven million refugees fleeing Ukraine.

Jews are aware of the terror and challenge of fleeing one’s country. Before and during the Holocaust, Jews tried to escape from areas controlled by Nazi Germany.

These refugees would have given anything they owned to be taken in by another country, but sadly this was not to be. Such refuge would literally have been lifesaving for these Jews.

So, we all should be grateful to Poland, as well as Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Moldova, who have accepted those fleeing for their lives from Ukraine.

I believe that one of the most important prayers in Jewish liturgy should be adapted to read as follows: “May the one who causes peace to rain in the high heavens cause peace to descend on Ukraine, on all countries who are accepting refugees, and on the world. Amen.”

Share This