Bialystok, Poland February 12, 2014
Father Wojciech Lemanski visited Bialystok, Poland yesterday on a trip to promote his new book, written in co-operation with the journalist Anna Wacławik-Orpik. Despite a busy schedule, Fr. Lemanski took time to visit a controversial fountain located in a public park. The defunct fountain was constructed in the 1950s or 1960s from Jewish gravestones.
Fr. Lemanski is famous among Poland’s Jews for his forthright defense of Jews and Jewish dignity.
In Bialystok for the day, Fr. Lemanski visited the park on a cold snowy day to see the destruction for himself. The President of the City Mr. Tadeusz Truskolaski has promised to find a solution to the “fountain” problem. A number of Bialystok residents received Fr. Lemanski, including City Council member Mr Aleksander Sosna, the chair of the Minorities Rights Committee of the Polish national government. In a recent open letter to Fr Lemanski, Mr. Sosna suggested that the city can address the problem only after they receive a 30 million grant from the European Union. City Council member Ms Janina Czyżewska joined the sentiment of a recent letter from Fr Lemanski, and urged the magistrate to immediate action. In response, Mr Sosna issued a statement stating he would begin the procedures aimed at removing the tombstones in early spring 2014. Observers note that the statement does not necessarily mean that actual work will begin this year.
Meanwhile, the matzevot (Hebrew: gravestones) are still buried in the defunct fountain. Local citizens, including Dr. Joanna Auron-Gorska and television personality Dariusz Szada-Borzyszkowski, active in the grassroots anti-prejudice initiative “Normalny Bialystok”, have repeatedly asked the city to expedite this matter. Surprisingly, officials of the Orthodox Jewish community expressed little interest in this matter until this came to the public’s notice.
Recently Bialystok has been a scene of several acts of intolerance and local citizens of good will as well as supportive outsiders have banded together to bring hate crimes to the attention of the national government.
Among Fr. Lemanski’s many activities he challenges the Church hierarchy to live out its Christian faith by reaching out to Poland’s tiny Jewish community. Each year he attends the July memorial ceremony at Jedwabne.
The Church officially bars Fr. Lemanski from direct contacts with the media, so his new book about his experiences as priest is a rare possibility to learn the story as told by Fr Lemanski himself.
Dr. Auron is the secretary of the Union of Progressive Judaism – Beit Polska.