Thursday, 25 April 2013 10:29

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Yaacov Kotlicki's speech delivered during the unveiling ceremony of the restored tombstone of Kielce Pogrom victims (July 5, 2010)

kotlickiHonourable Rabbi, Honourable Mr. Chairman, Distinguished Guests, Friends, Ladies and Gentlemen.

 

On the fourth of July 1946 here, in Kielce, Cain killed his brother Abel – a mob of the town inhabitants killed 42 Jews.

 

The dream of Holocaust survivors about moving to the land of their fathers, and about rebuilding their lives there, was shattered to pieces. As was the dream of those who wanted to revive Jewish life in Poland, against all odds. Tragic was the end to the magnificent one thousand year history of Polish Jewry.

 

The funeral was attended by thousands of people of Kielce, speeches were delivered, laments were raised to heavens, strong accusations were made, words of condemnation were said about the Church, “shady characters”, or “forces of black reaction”. Caddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead, was said, and when cantor Mosze Kosowicki began singing “El Male Rachamim” (Merciful God) – clouds covered the sky and heavy rain fell, as if He Himself, Blessed be His Name, wept over the sorrowful fate of Polish Jews. Only 34 of the 42 men, women, children, and infants killed were identified. The others were buried nameless – including a man known only by the number tattooed by the Nazis in Auschwitz: B2969.

 

For many years the successive Polish communist governments tried to wipe the stigma of Cain from the face of this town, push the memory of the tragedy into oblivion. Pogrom was not talked about, not written about, not mentioned. There was no possibility of organizing annual commemorations. The cemetery fell into ruins and the tombstone on the grave of the sacred victims was destroyed and profaned.

 

Decades had to pass for the bloody scream of the victims to again gush out from underground, demanding their brothers, people of this town, to bring them back to their memory! In 1987 a wall was built around the cemetery, and the monument was partly rebuilt from the fragments which had remained. After a silence of 40 years, commemorations again took place, during which the sons of the Polish a Jewish nations expressed, for the first time, their desire to reconcile.

 

In 1989 Poland regained its independence. A few years later, on the 50th anniversary of the pogrom in Kielce, grand celebrations took place here, with the participation of guests from Israel, USA, and Europe, during which Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz, who was then the Polish prime minister, expressed repentance and sorrow.

 

obraz 1471Over the past few years, Kielce pogrom was widely written about in the press, the Institute of National Remembrance collected all available documents about the course of the event, the prosecution launched a formal investigation. All these activities were undertaken with one aim in mind: to explain the reasons of the tragedy and find the perpetrators. Unfortunately, this task turned out to be impossible. There is still the most important question left unanswered: how did it happen that a mob of Polish inhabitants of the city so absolutely believed in the bloody medieval legend about Jews who supposedly added the blood of Christian children to matzah? So absolutely that in broad daylight they slaughtered dozens of their neighbours – Jews who had survived the Holocaust, and who dreamt of nothing more than just to lead a normal life?

 

In June 1968 a group of inhabitants of this city, composed of journalists, professors, actors, and business people, appealed to people to preserve the memory, to begin a dialogue and to reconcile. In media they explicitly expressed their disgust with the crime committed in 1946, and expressed their inability to understand and justify the mechanisms which led to this unspeakable act. They were aware, as they still are, of the fact that the Polish society is not free from national and religious prejudices. Although this brave and honest appeal was not adequately noticed back at that time, it did, however, evoke in the inhabitants the readiness to face the bitter and painful truth. This led to the possibility of starting the building of bridges of understanding between the two nations in subsequent years.

 

In September 2000 a historical gathering took place in Kielce, with the participation of this very group of the town’s inhabitants and representatives of those who had lived here and are now based in Israel. The meeting was entitled “The Lost Neighbourhood”, and at its end Prof Sinai Laichter read out a “memorandum of reconciliation”, which contained an appeal to the city of Kielce to take over the role of a leader in the social effort to strengthen tolerance, seek truth, and preserve the memory of the Jewish citizens of  Poland and their contribution to the development of this country. Prof Laicher specified in detail the ways of realizing the project and called on the teachers of Polish and Israeli schools to engage is a common effort towards these goals.

 

Indeed, over the recent 10 years, we have been witnessing a development and increase in the number of joint projects, which are now so numerous that it would be difficult to mention them all. New contacts are being made, meetings of school youth from Israel and Kielce are taking place. Among these new projects is also this one – the monument.

 

Our Sacred Brothers and Sisters, victims of the pogrom!

 

Today we stand here united, Jews and Christians, Israelis and Poles, so as to unveil this proud monument on your grave, so as to remember and recall your life tragedy, and our national tragedy. In this black stone we have engraved your names, and by means of this broken emblem of Israel we have symbolically expressed our hopes and dreams which were chattered sixty four years ago – right here, in this town.  Let it be also known to you, who have not made it to the land of Israel, the we, your children and the members of your nation, have brought with us a rock of Zion, from the mountains of Jerusalem, so as to fulfil the custom of placing it on your grave, and so as to tell you that the dream and desire of our nation of two thousand years has finally come true, also owing to your sacrifice. We have a free, modern, and progressive state, we have a strong army that defends us.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Friends!

 

We have erected this monument not only as a tribute to the dead, but also, or maybe even especially, as tribute to us, the living. We want not only Israelis and Jews to come here, who want to feel and understand why we have no other homeland apart from the Land of Israel. We also want Poles to come here, Christians, and people of other denominations or citizens of other nations. Feeling this atrocious tragedy, let the parents tell their children, teachers their pupils, and preachers their flock, that it is indispensible to value the life of every single individual on this earth.

 

Let this be a place where anti-Semitism is condemned – both past and present – as well as the one that recently tries to be re-termed as “anti-Zionism”. In the spirit of tolerance, let this be a place where young minds and hearts are shaped, where words are said against hatred, with the intention of reconciliation and peace among nations. Here will be a place where young members of both our nations will come together to remember the past and build bridges towards a new future.

 

Finally, let me repeat the moving words which in 1947 were said during the ceremony of the unveiling of the monument by Mr. Poznański, a representative of "Hashomer Hacair" in Poland. He asked the children gathered in the cemetery to also lay a flower on the nearby graves of the 45 children, innocent angels, who on 23 May 1943 were  taken away by the Nazis from their parents and cruelly murdered here. These were the last Jewish children of Kielce. I ask the children of Kielce today to remember and carry them in their hearts.

 

“Earth, don't cover their blood, Let their cry have no place to rest.  And 'tis them upon whose sacrifice the people of Israel shall return to their land from the most remote parts of the world.”

 

Yaacov Kotlicki is The Chairman of the Kielce Jewish Community in Israel

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