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Blog : Ragazou

Canadian community mourns death of Polish president



TORONTO ? The Canadian Jewish community  has offered its condolences to Poles around the world on the recent death of Polish President Lech Kaczynski.


The late Polish President Lech Kaczynski 


Kaczynski, his wife, First Lady Maria Kaczynska, and dozens on his leadership team perished in a plane crash near Smolensk, Russia, on Saturday, April 10.


Canadian Jewish Congress, B'nai Brith Canada and the Polish-Jewish Heritage Foundation of Canada released statements over the weekend, among others, expressing their sympathy and mourning the deaths.


Peter Jassem, chair of the Toronto chapter of the Polish-Jewish Heritage Foundation, recalled Kaczynski's devotion to repairing ties between Jews, Israel and Poland.


?He continued the political course that has now made Poland the closest ally of the Jewish state in Europe and its fervent supporter in the United Nations.     He was the first postwar head of Poland to celebrate the start of Chanukah in a Polish synagogue together with Warsaw's Jewish community leaders and the first to light candles in the presidential palace on this important holiday that was once celebrated by one in every 10 Polish citizens,? Jassem said.


Bernie Farber, Congress' CEO, remembered the president and first lady as ?stalwarts in enhancing Polish-Jewish relations' both in Poland and internationally.


?We grieve at this difficult time with [Polish ambassador to Canada Zenon] Kosiniak-Kamysz and the Polish-Canadian community. We will strive to honour the memory of Lech Kaczynski and Maria Kaczynska by working to bring our two communities even closer together,? he said.


Frank Dimant, executive vice-president of B'nai Brith Canada, said there were no words to ?express our deep sadness at Poland's great loss,? adding that Kaczynski and Kaczynska were ?wonderful people who worked tirelessly to promote Polish-Jewish relations and played a crucial role in healing some of the old wounds between our two communities.?


The Polish government declared this week one of national mourning. Memorial services were scheduled in synagogues in Warsaw and Krakow, and Jewish organizations and cultural centres cancelled their programs.


?In the face of an unimaginable tragedy we join the victims' families and the whole country in grief and sorrow,? said Joachim Russek, director of the Judaica Foundation Center for Jewish Culture in Krakow.


Kaczynski was a staunch friend of Israel and actively supported Jewish causes in Poland. When he was the mayor of Warsaw, he played a key role in the decision to found a Museum of the History of Polish Jewry, currently under construction on land donated by the city, and he was the honorary patron of the annual Festival of Jewish Culture in Krakow.


On Monday, the annual Holocaust memorial at Auschwitz-Birkenau also honoured the late Polish president.


Organizers of the March of the Living ? in which some 10,000 Jewish youths march more than a mile (1.6 kilometres) between the two parts of the former Nazi death camp ? which took place on Yom Hashoah, used Monday's Holocaust remembrance program at Auschwitz to issue a tribute to the fallen Polish president and remembered all those killed in Saturday's crash.


?While our program will go on in deference to the memories of the six million killed in Europe during the Holocaust, we are deeply saddened by this terrible loss to the Polish government and people,? said Shmuel Rosenman, chairman of the organization.


Israeli President Shimon Peres expressed ?pain, shock and distress' in a statement released Saturday.

?The bilateral ties between our two countries were strengthened during his presidency, distinguished by a spirit of friendship and warmth. The State of Israel bows its head, as it partakes in the deep sorrow of the Polish people on the occasion of their dreadful loss,? Peres said.


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement released Saturday evening: ?We share in the profound grief of the Polish people over the loss of President Kaczynski, his wife and all of the members of the Polish delegation. I knew President Kaczynski as a Polish patriot, as a great friend of Israel and as a leader who was very active on behalf of his people and for advancing peace and prosperity in the world.


?We recently met in Warsaw, in January of this year, within the framework of the events commemorating 65 years since the liberation of the Auschwitz camp and International Holocaust Day. President Kaczynski led an important process for opening a new page in relations between the Polish and Jewish people and developed Polish-Israeli relations.?


With files from JTA


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