Friday, March 20, 2009

Poland is a burgeoning European haven

New democracy never forgets the past

The consulate general of the Republic of Poland, Paulina Kapuscinska, came to Ketchum to support the exhibition “Polish Heroes: Those Who Rescued Jews,” sponsored by the Wood River Jewish Community, and to give a lecture at the Community Library. Photo by Willy Cook

While many Wood River Valley residents were acknowledging their Irish heritage and celebrating St. Patrick's Day, others were attending a presentation on Poland at The Community Library in Ketchum on Tuesday, March 17. The Los Angeles-based consulate general of the Republic of Poland, Paulina Kapuscinska, spoke about Poland, its culture, its history and its future as a rising democracy.

Kapuscinska came as the guest of Sun Valley resident Susan Passovoy, the new honorary consul for the Republic of Poland in Idaho. Passovoy also worked with the Wood River Jewish Community to bring the photography exhibition "Polish Heroes: Those Who Rescued Jews," which is on display through April 6 below the Wood River Jewish Community offices on 471 Leadville Ave. in Ketchum.

"Historically, Poland is affiliated and often named as an Eastern European country because it was linked with other Communist countries," Kapuscinska said. "Thank God, this is no more. Poles have always looked for freedom and democracy, but the Communist period was a true pain for Poland."

Poland is part of the European Union and a member of NATO. Kapuscinska said the Los Angeles Times named Warsaw as one of the top 10 travel destinations in its "Ultimate Guide to the World." Warsaw has been completely restored from almost total destruction by the Germans in World War II and is a UNESCO World Heritage site, boasting a 15th-century town hall, a market square, a royal castle and a cathedral.

Though there is not much of a Jewish ghetto left in Warsaw due to an uprising in 1943, the Nozyk Synagogue still stands. It is the only Jewish house of worship that survived the German invasion.

Warsaw was the home of Frédéric Chopin, and next year the city will celebrate the 200th anniversary of the composer's birth.

In 1989, Poland regained a democratic system, the outcome of the formation of the non-Communist trade union Solidarity. Solidarity, born in a Polish shipyard in the 1980s, fostered an anti-Communist social movement.

"I remember it, and it was amazing," Kapuscinska said. "The U.S. spirit for Obama in the presidential elections reminded me of the spirit in Poland in the '80s but multiplied by four."

Kapuscinska said today's Poland is a thriving country with low inflation. She said Polish culture has kept the country together. The government sponsors theater, cultural events and all libraries.


"There are a lot of sentimental feelings for Poland (in the U.S.) and many U.S. citizens have retired to Poland," Kapuscinska said. "There are lots of Polish-Jewish organizations, a famous Jewish festival at the end of June and a well-known Jewish film festival in Warsaw."

Kapuscinka said Poland experienced a lot of pain after World War II, but has felt proud that few Poles collaborated with the Nazis. Poles' efforts to rescue Jews have become part of the country's heritage.

The traveling photography exhibition "Polish Heroes: Those Who Rescued Jews" was created by the Auschwitz Jewish Centre, the Galicia Jewish Museum in Krakow and the Polish American Jewish Alliance for Youth Action. The photographs by the late Chris Scwartz tell the story of 21 such people who still live in the Krakow region today. Over 22,000 people worldwide have been recognized by the memorial organization Yad Vashem in Jerusalem for their assistance to Jews during the Holocaust, and nearly 6,000 of those are Poles. Established in 1953, Yad Vashem is Israel's official memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

Kapuscinska said the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum is run by the government of Poland with a budget of $12 million. She said that in January 2008, Władysław Bartoszewski, a former minister of foreign affairs, sent a letter to world leaders as well as then-presidential candidate Barack Obama to establish a foundation for the Auschwitz museum.

Bartoszewski was an Auschwitz concentration camp inmate, a soldier of the Polish underground resistance Armia Krajowa and a participant in the Warsaw Uprising, and is an honorary citizen of Israel. Kapuscinska said he hopes to raise about $3.5 million to create an endowment to fund the Auschwitz museum.

"Admission to the museum is free and every school in Poland has in its curriculum a visit to the museum," she said. "People who take care of the museum are amazing, from the guards and curator to the director."

She said more than 1,220,000 people visit the museum every year.

"It needs to be protected," she said. "Time and weather cannot take this away. Those who question the Holocaust and its occurrence will have won if it's not conserved."

Sabina Dana Plasse:

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