By Vanessa Gera, AP, 2/17/2018
WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Matylda Jonas-Kowalik has spent most of her 22 years secure in the belief that she would never know the discrimination, persecution or violence that killed or traumatized generations of Polish Jews before her. She once thought the biggest problem that young Jewish Poles like herself faced was finding a Jewish boyfriend or girlfriend in a country dominated by Catholics.
But an eruption of anti-Semitic comments in public debates amid a diplomatic dispute with Israel over a new Holocaust speech law has caused to her to rethink that certainty. Now she and others fear the hostile rhetoric could eventually trigger anti-Semitic violence, and she finds herself thinking constantly about whether she should leave Poland.
“This is my home. I have never lived anywhere else and wanted this to keep being my home,” said Jonas-Kowalik, a Jewish studies major at Warsaw University. “But this makes me very anxious. I don’t know what to expect.”
Poland’s Jewish community is the surviving remnant of a vibrant and diverse Polish- and Yiddish-speaking community that numbered 3.3 million on the eve of the Holocaust. Only 10 percent survived the German genocide, while postwar violence and persecution in the first decades of communist rule forced out many of the survivors.
Since communism’s collapse in 1989, Jewish life has been re-emerging, with young people feeling safe enough in Poland’s democracy to embrace a heritage their parents and grandparents had largely repressed.
Yet anxieties have been creeping in amid a global rise in xenophobia that was also felt in Poland.
A conservative party, Law and Justice, won power in Poland vowing to restore national greatness while also stressing an anti-Muslim, anti-migrant message. Jews — whose presence in Poland goes back centuries — were increasingly the targets of verbal hate on social media.