WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Three people have been arrested in Poland in connection with an antisemitic demonstration last week where far-right participants shouted “Death to the Jews!,” the country’s interior minister said Monday.
The demonstration took place last Thursday, on Poland’s Independence Day, in the central Polish city of Kalisz. Participants also burned a copy of a medieval document that offered Jews protection and rights in Polish lands.
Poland’s Jewish community said in a statement Monday that Polish Jews “have not experienced such contempt and hatred expressed in public for years.”
“Poland is our homeland. We are both Jews and Poles. We are asking, however, why our right to regard Poland as our home is being questioned ever more often and ever more openly?” the Union of Jewish Religious Communities said.
Interior Minister Mariusz Kaminski announced the arrests on Twitter, saying “there is no consent to antisemitism and hatred based on nationality, religion or ethnicity.”
“In the face of the organizers of the disgraceful event in Kalisz, the Polish state must show its ruthlessness and determination,” Kaminski said.
Polish authorities have faced questions as to why it took so long to make the arrests, given that the incident was widely reported in Poland.
One of those arrested is Wojciech Olszanski, a far-right activist also known as Aleksander Jablonowski, who said on burning the copy of the Statute of Kalisz, the 13th-century document laying out Jewish rights: “We are abolishing Jewish rights in this land!” and “Death to the enemies of Poland!”
The crowd responded with chants of “Death! Death! Death!”
Another is Piotr Rybak, who was given a prison sentence for burning an effigy of a Jew. In 2019, he went to the former Auschwitz death camp on the anniversary of its liberation and said: “It’s time to fight against Jewry and free Poland from them!”
The public expression of hatred occurred on a holiday celebrating Poland’s statehood, a day which in recent years has been overshadowed by far-right groups.
The Jewish community statement noted that Polish state and local governments have been “giving up their role as the main organizer of Independence Day celebrations, thus letting the initiative be taken over by extreme right-wing organizations that use public assemblies to preach antisemitic, xenophobic, and homophobic words.”
“Unfortunately, some of these organizations benefit from public funding,” it said.
Polish President Andrzej Duda strongly condemned the antisemitic incident on Sunday, while people in the city of Kalisz held a demonstration Sunday under the slogan “Kalisz — free from fascism.”
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid welcomed the “unequivocal condemnation” by Polish authorities and said Jewish people “expect the Polish government to act uncompromisingly against those who took part in this shocking display of hate.”
Poland was for centuries one of the most welcoming European lands for Jews, with kings offering them protection after they fled persecution in German lands.
Poland’s Jewish community grew to become the largest in Europe in the 20th century, with some 3.3 million Jews on the eve of World War II. Most were murdered by Nazi Germany during the Holocaust. Today the community is very small, numbering in the thousands.