The Day In Israel: Sunday April 11th, 2010
Israel is paying its respects to Polish President Lech Kaczynski, who was killed in a plane crash.
President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi joined other world leaders and top-ranking military officers in extending condolences to the government, people and army of Poland as well as to the families of the victims of the plane crash that took the lives of Polish President Lech Kaczynski, his wife, Maria, and other senior dignitaries and military personnel.
Netanyahu, who met with Kaczynski in Poland and sat alongside him less than three months ago at the International Holocaust Awareness ceremony commemorating the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, issued a statement, saying, “I knew Kaczynski as a Polish patriot, a great friend of Israel and a leader who did much for his people and to further world peace and prosperity.”
Netanyahu said Kaczynski led an important process to begin a new chapter in relations between Poles and Jews, and between Poland and Israel.
Lieberman and Barak also issued statements mourning the loss, with the foreign minister praising Kaczynski as a “true friend” of Israel who proved his friendship in both words and deeds.
Barak said Kaczynski’s death was a “great loss to his people and to the entire world.”
Peres, who had spent a considerable amount of time with Kaczynski in April, 2008, when Peres paid a state visit to Poland for the 65th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, expressed Israel’s shock at the tragedy that struck Poland.
“The news of the tragic accident that has taken the lives of my friend, President Lech Kaczynski, his wife Maria Kaczynska, and prominent members of Poland’s leadership and its parliament, has been received with a great deal of pain, shock and distress,” said Peres.
“This tragic event is a dreadful blow to the Polish people and to the world at large. My friend, President Kaczynski, was among those who led and advanced change in his country, and represented free Poland, democratic Poland and modern Poland.”
Peres also praised the work of Kaczynski and his wife to promote closer ties between the Poles and Jews by helping to “heal the scars of the past,” and emphasized that bilateral ties between Israel and Poland had been strengthened during Kaczynski’s presidency.
Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev made the point that Kaczynski, who visited Yad Vashem twice, saw importance in maintaining the memory of the Holocaust, and that the subject of Righteous Among the Nations was particularly close to his heart.
Kaczynski was an ardent promoter of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, for which he gave the land when he was mayor of Warsaw. The museum is being built alongside the Warsaw Ghetto monument.
It is not yet known who will represent Israel at Kaczynski’s funeral. According to protocol, it should be Peres, who is leaving for Paris on Tuesday for the dedication of a square to be named in honor of his mentor, and Israel’s founding prime minister, David Ben Gurion. He may continue on to Poland if the funeral is held later in the week. A spokesperson for Beit Hanassi told The Jerusalem Post that the situation is still unclear.
Among the other victims of the tragedy were Chief of the Polish Army’s General Staff Franciszek Gagor, the Ground Troops’ commander Gen. Tadeusz Buk, Air Force Commander Gen. Andrzej Blasik and the special-purpose troops’ commander Gen. Wlodzimierz Potashinski.
In a condolence message to the Polish Defense Forces and their commanders, as well as to the family of Gagor, Ashkenazi said that he had met with Gagor several times over the past three years. He recalled in particular a NATO conference and a time when Gagor had hosted him while Ashkenazi was in Poland to participate in the March of the Living.
Ashkenazi described Gagor as “a superb army man” and remarked on his keen interest in IDF officers who participated in the Witnesses in Uniform program in which the IDF teaches its young officers about the Holocaust by taking them to the death camps and explaining what happened there. Ashkenazi said that he and Gagor had conversed at length on the program, and it had been of importance to Gagor that the officers meet with counterparts in the Polish Army so that they could realize that Poland’s new generation was also being educated about the lessons of the Holocaust.
Meanwhile, the upcoming March of the Living in Auschwitz will go on as planned, while also honoring the victims of the plane crash.
“In the keynote event we shall give expression to the sorrow, mourning, and condolences over the disaster that happened here,” March of the Living Director Aharon Tamir said. “We will attach black ribbons to our flags in order to properly honor the Poles’ pain. President Kaczynski was a great friend of the March and received delegations. I personally met him three times.”
Meanwhile, Science Minister Daniel Hershkowitz delivered an address in memory of the Polish plane crash victims during a ceremony in Krakow honoring Righteous Gentiles.
The minister spoke of the late president’s “special friendship” with Israel, and stressed that Kaczynski was “undoubtedly one of Israel’s greatest friends.”
“Even though we cannot compare the current times to the Holocaust era, we can refer to him as a Righteous Gentile,” Hershkowitz said.
Updates (Israel time; most recent at top)?
8:22PM: The official Yom Hashoa ceremony at Yad Vashem is taking place now. You can watch it live online here.
3:25PM: Israelis have been arriving at the Polish Embassy in Tel Aviv to show their support for the people of Poland.
Memorial candles and flowers were placed at the building’s entrance, as well as a note from “the Tel Aviv neighbors.” Several embassy clerks also arrived at the site. The Polish flag was flown at half-mast.
Urshala Lavdonska, a polish immigrant who made aliyah three years ago, placed flowers and lit candles at the site. “It’s very sad. Kaczynski was a president we all loved,” she said.
Avraham Ladar, a Ramat Gan resident who was born in Poland also came to pay his respects. “I immigrated from Poland 60 years ago and it’s still very painful. Kaczynski was a great friend to the Jewish people. It’s very symbolic that he died a day before the eve of the Holocaust Remembrance Day.”
Tzvia Halachmi from Ramat Gan said she came to sign a memoir book which is due for release by the embassy on behalf of her friend, a 70-year-old Holocaust survivor from Haifa.
“Israel doesn’t have many friends in the world like the Polish president. We are shocked and mourning the fact that he of all people has gone. We lost an avid supporter who always lent us a warm shoulder,” she said.
Zoya Namensikov, a native Ukrainian said, “How is it possible that such a thing has happened? Letting a president fly in a plane that crashes? It feels like war.”
Oren Patoka from Haifa went an extra step and placed the Polish flag on his house porch. “I am the third generation of Holocaust survivors. I always had mixed feelings about the Polish people, but they were also the ones who saved my grandmother.
“When I heard about the crash I checked up about Lech Kaczynski and discovered he made honest efforts to commemorate the Shoah. He wanted to build a Holocaust museum in Warsaw. I felt a tingle in my heart for those Polish people who did help, not the anti-Semites.”
Patoka also noted that by placing the flag he was honoring the unknown Righteous among the Nations.
11:05AM: According to Ha’aretz, the Shin Bet has requested that an Israeli Arab man working as part of the cleaning staff in former prime minister Ehud Olmert’s gym be transferred from the premises to a different workplace due to security sensitivities.
Here is perhaps some important contextual information that Ha’aretz sees fit to omit.
#22: Clan brawls.
#23: Horse-drawn wedding ceremonies.
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