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Thursday, 15 September 2005

The President of Poland holds a meeting with representatives of the American Jewish Committee (AJC)

On 15 September 2005, President of the Republic of Poland Aleksander Kwaśniewski and the First Lady held a meeting with David Harris, the Director of the American Jewish Committee, and members of the AJC. During the meeting with the American Jewish Committee, President Aleksander Kwaśniewski was honored with the Committee’s American Liberties Medallion and the Polish President presented the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland to the Head of AJC David Harris. Addressing the gathered, President of the Republic of Poland said:
Dear Ladies and Gentlemen!
I would like to thank you for inviting me to attend this meeting with the American Jewish Committee. I am glad that I have the honor of meeting with such a distinguished auditorium during my current visit to the United States of America.
I have traveled to meet you from a country with which Jews have shared their destiny for many centuries. They were intertwined with the Republic  of Poland for good and bad. Indeed, it was there, on the Vistula River that they developed their culture,  nurtured their traditions and customs, exerted an influence on the development  of local communities. Three-fourths of the Jews currently dispersed throughout the world have their roots in Poland.
Over the 16 years that have elapsed since Poland regained total sovereignty,  we have made great progress.   An important part of our newest accomplishments is our new way of looking at the past. This also includes issues associated with Polish-Jewish relations. Today, I would like to tell you about the status of our cooperation with Jewish communities, about everything that serves the purpose of preserving the memory  of our common past as well as of shaping good relations for the years ahead.
One of the most important – and very difficult – matters with which we have been dealing is the restitution of municipal property. Eight years ago, this issue was regulated  by the Act on the States Relationship  to Jewish Communities. They have the same legal status as Christian churches. I would like to add that in March of this year a government bill was submitted  to the Parliament on compensation for real estate and some other components  of private property seized by the state. In its next term of office the Parliament will continue working on this document.
The Republic of Polands authorities strongly support all initiatives that serve the purpose of preserving the sites of remembrance concerning our shared past. We highly esteem cooperation in this field with the Poland Jewish Restoration Project (PJCRP), a non-governmental organization dealing with revitalizing Jewish cemeteries. For years we have been doing our utmost  to commemorate in a dignified manner  the victims of the Holocaust and the sites associated with the martyrdom  of the Jewish nation. Last year, in June, together  with the representatives of the American Jewish Committee, I had the honor  of participating in the official opening of the Museum-Site of Remembrance in Bełżec. As you know best, we financed this together. This is a valuable expression of our cooperation.
Ladies and Gentlemen!
At the beginning of this year,  an agreement was signed to establish  the Museum of the History  of the Polish Jews. This projects objective is to document the nearly 900 year-long history of our Jewish co-citizens, to depict their contribution  to Polands intellectual, cultural, economic and political development. The most modern multimedia techniques will be employed to arrange standing expositions and to present exhibits. We are very much counting on awareness about this initiative being propagated among Jewish communities. We hope that this Museum will become  a fixed point in the program of visits paid by Jewish youth to Poland. We are counting on Jewish communities establishing cooperation with this new institution.
The fact that more and more is being published in Poland on the history  and culture of Polish Jews gives me great satisfaction. We attach enormous weight to propagating knowledge about Jewish history  and culture, about the shared aspects  of our history. The date of the outburst of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, April 19th,  has been recognized as the Day of Holocaust Remembrance and of combating crimes against humanity. Moreover – in January of this year  the Polish Government adopted a resolution on establishing the International Center  of Education on Auschwitz  and the Holocaust. Its organic act was signed two days later during the celebration of the 60th anniversary of liberating the camp.
Evidence of our efforts to disseminate knowledge about our shared past may also be found in Polands participation  in the International Task Force on Holocaust Education, Remembrance  and Research - ITF. The initiatives we have submitted to ITF – in which we have assumed the presidency this year – enjoy extensive recognition. In particular, this concerns numerous seminars that are supposed  to assist teachers in teaching about  the Extermination.
Youth exchange aimed at inculcating  the idea of tolerance is proceeding increasingly more smoothly. One example of the very good cooperation in this area is the „Next Generation” initiative realized by the Foundation called Forum for Dialog between the Nations („Forum Dialogu Między Narodami”)  in cooperation with the American Jewish Committee (AJC). During the March of the Living,  this Foundation organizes meetings between Polish and Jewish youth from  the US, Canada, Israel and European states. Personal experience and established ties make it possible to cast aside false notions and stereotypes.
Ladies and Gentlemen!
In Poland, we firmly condemn  – and I want to emphasize this explicitly  – all manifestations of anti-Semitism. According to the report on anti-Semitism  in the world published by  the US Department of State, steady decline in anti-Semitic sentiments and incidents has been recorded in Poland. This is, for me, a cause of great pride. I think that this is an effect of our educational efforts, initiatives that foster rapprochement, direct meetings.   This is a result of the activity of many  good-willed people, including the hierarchs of the Catholic Church in Poland. The words of my Great Countryman,  Pope John Paul the Second are frequently an inspiration for our actions: „The world must hear the warning addressed  to us by the victims of the Holocaust  and by the testimony given by those who survived”.
Today, we know better than at any other time what threats are embodied  in acquiescing to racial hatred,  xenophobia or anti-Semitism. To phenomena that easily become  the hotbed of unpredictable conflicts  and dramatic events. The question that we have been posing ourselves since the dark times  of the Holocaust is what should be done  to ensure that the tragic experience  of the past is never repeated anywhere?
During an address I made last year  to young Israelis at the Hebrew University  I expressed the conviction that it is  a special obligation of politicians, states, governments, churches, opinion-setting communities and the mass media  to promulgate tolerance. For it enables communities and individuals with different cultures to cohabitate  in accord.
In the course of my nearly 10-year-long presidency I have striven to combat all forms of anti-Semitism and intolerance. I said that loudly in Jedwabne,  where dreadful acts of murdering Jews, citizens of the Republic of Poland took place at the hands of their Polish neighbors during the Second World War. I have always been an advocate of telling the historical truth, even the most painful truth. With the same determination I combated  all manifestations of revisionism,  the Auschwitz lie and historical amnesia, which would enable the nations of Europe to forget about victims who do not belong  to their own nation.
In this context let me express my gratitude for Mr. David Harriss statement – made on behalf of AJC – on the media inaccurately and falsely disseminating historical facts and information  about the alleged „Polish death camps”. This statement constitutes a significant proof of our joint efforts for the triumph  of truth. Therefore I would like to avail this extraordinary opportunity to express my deepest gratitude for Your commitment  to peace and reconciliation, and for your friendliness towards Poland and the Polish people. I will be honored to present to You  – in recognition of Your engagement  and achievements – the Polish Commanders Cross with Star, one of the highest Polish medals bestowed on foreigners.
Dear Friends!
The world exists thanks to three things: thanks to truth, justice and peace  – as the words of the Talmud resound. Today, many of my countrymen  are perfectly well aware that truth, justice and peace will help us – Jews and Poles – build a successful future.
May todays meeting also be a call for international cooperation, reconciliation, tolerance and mutual understanding.
The American Jewish Committee was established in 1906 by a small group of American Jews deeply concerned about pogroms aimed at the Jewish population of Russia. The group determined that the best way to protect Jews in Russia and other countries would be to work towards a world in which all peoples are accorded respect and dignity.
Almost 100 years later, that founding mission continues to guide AJCs efforts to promote pluralistic and democratic societies where all minorities are protected. In addition to its New York headquarters and Office of Government & International Affairs in Washington, AJC today operates 33 U.S. offices and 18 international posts.
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