“The opening of our yeshiva (in 2005) and the ordination of the new rabbis is the best answer we can give to Hitler and the Nazis, it shows they did not win,” said Rabbi Shalom Stambler. The ordination of nine new rabbis on Sunday evening in Warsaw, the first in Poland since the Nazis murdered most of what was one of the world’s largest Jewish communities, was a proud moment for the Warsaw-based head representative of Chabad Lubavitch of Poland. “Poland was always a centre of Jewish study in the world,” he said. “People used to come from all over the world to study the Torah here. This was stopped by the Nazis … We hope the yeshiva will grow and grow.”
Read our feature “Pride, hope as Poland ordains first postwar rabbis” here. Apart from his comments in the feature, Rabbi Stambler told me a recent controversy in Poland over a book accusing Poles of persecuting Jews in the years after the Holocaust had told him something about today’s Poles. “I saw how many people entered into the dialogue, students, intellectuals, people who wanted to know how their grandparents had acted,” he said.
Jan Gross’s book Fear argues that anti-Semitism remained prevalent in Poland under the communist regime after 1945. In a sign of the continued sensitivity of the subject in Poland, state prosecutors investigated whether the book had slandered the Polish nation but finally decided not to press charges.
Stambler said he did not believe there was anti-Semitism in the higher echelons of Polish society, but noted the continued attraction of the ultra-Catholic, often anti-Semitic Radio Maryja among some sections of the population.
Commenting on anti-Semitism, Stambler’s brother Meir, a businessman, said: “Some old people, or young drunks, sometimes shout abuse. There is not plenty (of anti-Semitism) but it exists… But once an old man was screaming at us on a tram and some young people walked up and told him to stop, they were ashamed, they told him to join the 21st century,” he said.