|Poland Table of Contents
Although an estimated 200,000 Polish Jews survived the Holocaust, only about 10,000 remained in Poland in 1991, and that population was mostly elderly. As the postcommunist era began, relations with the now very small Jewish community retained an ambiguous but prominent place in the consciousness of Polish society. Beginning in the late 1970s, public interest in past Polish-Jewish relations increased significantly despite the dwindling of the Jewish population. Social observers attributed this partly to nostalgia for prewar times, when the Jews had made a dynamic contribution to Poland's diverse urban cultural environment. Another source of renewed interest was a need to finally understand the long and tangled historical connection of the Poles and the Jews. That connection was formed most prominently by the Holocaust, which had wrought havoc upon both Poles and Jews, and by the role of antisemitic elements in Polish society before and after World War II. In the early 1990s, these issues still provoked deep emotional responses as well as intellectual contemplation.
When communist rule ended, the phenomenon of "antisemitism without Jews" came under renewed scrutiny. In the first national elections of postcommunist Poland, candidates frequently exchanged charges of antisemitism and, conversely, of undue Jewish influence in policy making. In 1991 Solidarity leader Lech Walesa apologized personally before the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, for antisemitic statements by some of his supporters during the presidential campaign. According to a 1992 survey, 40 percent of Poles estimated the current Jewish population in Poland at above 750,000 people; 16 percent believed the Jews were a threat to Poland's political development in the 1990s; and 26 percent said the Jews exerted too much influence in Polish society. On the other hand, 81 percent said that the memory of the Holocaust should be preserved indefinitely to prevent a recurrence. Extreme right-wing parties with antisemitic platforms gained no seats in the parliamentary elections of 1991.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress