The Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) issued a statement on 21 February stating it is considering issuing a Travel Advisory for Jews travelling to Poland. According to an SWC representative, the advisory would suggest travel in the country be limited to memorial sites connected with the Holocaust and Jewish cemeteries. The stated reason would be threats to Jews in Poland.
What is the SWC, its Travel Advisories, and why are they used?
The 40-year-old SWC is an international organisation focused on the Holocaust and retaining memory of it. It is named for the famed Simon (Szymon) Wiesenthal (1908–2005) and his Jewish Documentation Centre in Vienna. The SWC has offices in several countries. In addition to the search for surviving perpetrators of the Holocaust and attempts to arrest them, the centre also deals with anti-Semitism in Europe and in the world. One element of this are Travel Advisories, issued to the worldwide Jewish community. The behaviour of states in reference to crimes committed during the Holocaust is also criticized. So far, the SWC’s criticism has mainly touched such countries as Ukraine, Lithuania, Hungary, Croatia and Austria. Poland had not met with a harsh reaction from the SWC until now.
What is the SWC’s criticism of Poland?
The centre’s statement clearly stresses that it is only considering issuing the negative travel recommendation for Poland. The advisory warning is in reaction to Poland’s changes to its Act on the Institute of National Remembrance. The SWC statement emphasizes the centre’s friendly attitude to the Polish state and the long tradition of cooperation with democratic forces in the Republic of Poland since 1983, on the 40th Anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. A travel advisory would be issued only after further observation and in case there is a growing problem of anti-Semitism in Poland. The threats it views in historical policy cited in the text of the statement and other official statements from the centre have not been recalled.
What is the real scale of the threat to Jews in Poland and in some other European countries?
Data from the EU’s Agency for Fundamental Rights shows that the number of anti-Semitic incidents in Poland was 101 in 2016, the most recent year of complete data. That puts Poland far below other European countries, including Germany, which recorded 1,468 incidents in 2016. The situation in Germany prompted Chancellor Angela Merkel to strongly warn against the growth of anti-Semitism in the country during her speech in France on 27 January, the Day of the Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust: “It is inconceivable and shameful that no Jewish institution can exist without police protection, whether it is a school, a kindergarten, or a synagogue.” The incidents are connected to both left-wing and right-wing extremism.
What would be the impact of an SWC Travel Advisory for Poland and what is its role in assessing the situation of the European Jewish community?
The SWC is held in high esteem especially among international Holocaust circles. A situation in which it views Poland’s amendments of the IPN law as a potentially greater threat to tourists of Jewish origin than the growth of anti-Semitic violence in Germany or France will not favour the relations between one of the most important international organisations dealing with the Holocaust and the Polish state. It could potentially harm the organisation’s authority. SWC criticism has for a long time been directed primarily against the countries of Central and Eastern Europe while seeming to ignore the problems in the countries of Western Europe. Considering the data on anti-Semitic acts, a travel advisory for Poland could be considered a form of unjustified discrimination.