In recent months, a heated debate is taking place in Bialystok, concerning the planned development of Bema Street. The source of controversy is the fact that the program of Bema Street development also includes the plan of building renovation of the former butcher’s hall – a place where the Jewish cemetery and was destroyed by the Nazis during the German occupation. "Here is Poland, not Israel," says the city councillors who support the construction on the premises of a former cemetery.
The case of the cemetery on the Bema Street is just an example. Such cases are also known in Warsaw and in other Polish cities, where the presence of memory objects of Jewish heritage is "inconvenient" for local residents. Let us take the example of two murals on Muranów quarter in Warsaw: two murals – one presents Marek Edelman, and the other one is titled "Women of Muranów." The first was painted over by the building administration less than a year after its creation - the administration required a payment for it as in the case of advertising banner. The second mural was rejected by the administration of several buildings, which believed that it represents too many Jewish figures: "Don’t we have any Poles to show?" asked the residents.
Such arguments are often used by those who are opposed to preserving Jewish heritage in Poland (whether these are cemeteries, memorials or other works). Arguments, that confront Jewish culture with the Polish one seems to be inconsistent and contradict. Those people, who use such arguments, could not be more wrong.
Yes of course, here is Poland, not Israel. This is the exact reason why keeping the cemetery is so important: the preservation of Jewish heritage in Poland is the Polish case, not the Jewish one. It should be first and foremost in the interest of Poles. It's not about the memory about the Jews, but about the memory of Polish people - the true, former Poland, the picture of the country as it was for many years - the most tolerant, open, multicultural and democratic country in Europe.
After so many years of occupation and the lack of independence, revived democratic Poland finally has a chance to show what it is, and not what the different occupiers wanted it to be. Unfortunately, those from the camp "Here is Poland", they want to give us a distorted picture of Polish society as a uniform, dull, closed and intolerant society.
However, we know that the story has a different opinion on the subject. The facts speak for themselves: before 1939, Poland was the second largest home for Jews around the world. In the Middle Ages, when Jews in other European countries were persecuted, Poles were the one who adopted them as brothers. When the Nazis shed Jewish blood throughout the continent, the Poles, more than any other nation, came to rescue their neighbours. For centuries, Poles were a moral example for other nations in the area. This legacy should be a source of pride for Poles - but, unfortunately, too many of them want to forget about it.
When we want to save and protect objects related to the history of Jews in Poland, it's not only us about the Jewish heritage. First of all, it is the idea to commemorate the Polish real values. We want Poles to be able to look at the places of memory of the Jews and say proudly: "Yes, the Jews lived here - a lot of the Jews! We shared our homeland with them, helping each other, we were neighbours, brothers, friends. We welcomed them in our country, took care of them when nobody else wanted to do. They were taken from us, but we still remember the good old times. "
Today, the struggle for this historical lesson is even more important than ever. In times of crisis, when the history repeats itself, and refugees will be knocking on the Polish door, it is important to look at the multicultural tradition of Polish. The camp "Here is Poland", which is trying to forget about Polish history of tolerance and support, is the same which later said that Poland should not help the refugees, because they represent a threat to the "Polish-Catholic nation." Do not let them forget that it is precisely the Catholic tradition, which directs the Polish years, and teaches us: " Come to me, all you who labour and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest." It is the tradition that created this wonderful country, which is Poland.