A controversial Polish proposal to outlaw blaming Poland for crimes committed during the Holocaust has strained its relations with Israel which fears that such a law would whitewash crimes that were committed by Poles on Polish soil.
While the Polish government’s proposed legislation hadn’t been announced at the time that Anna Maria Anders, a Polish senator as well as Poland’s secretary of state for international dialogue, was attending the Am Yisrael Chai Holocaust Remembrance Day event on Jan. 21 in Atlanta — it was just five days later.
Given her family’s history, neither government could find a better mediating figure than Ms. Anders to keep the channels of communication open until the controversy is resolved.
She’s the daughter of Gen. Wladyslaw Anders, the World War II commander of the Polish forces at the epic battle of Monte Cassino in Italy during which many Poles lost their lives but enabled Allied forces to make their way into northern Italy and beyond.
General Anders also is well known in Israel for his Italian campaign as well as previously permitting his troops of Jewish heritage to fight for Israel‘s formation. Among them was Menachem Begin, originally a Pole who eventually founded Israel’s Likud party and became the 6th Israeli prime minister.
Ms. Anders told Global Atlanta during an interview before flying back to Washington that her visit to Atlanta was “almost an accident.”
During a Polish Heritage Night celebrated by the U.S. Congress in Washington she was invited to the Holocaust Remembrance event honoring the memory of Chiune Sughara, the Japanese imperial consul general to Lithuania who helped Jews escape from invading Nazi forces. She decided on the spot to accept the invitation. “Why not,” she recalled, “such an opportunity to meet some new people and further develop Polish-U.S. business.”
She emphasized that she was most pleased to have made the effort. “People here have been delightful,” she said, “so hospitable, people have gone out of their way to make us feel comfortable and have shown a lot of interest in Poland. I’ve seen that in DC and I’ve seen it here.”
Two years ago she was elected to Poland’s Senate in a by-election to a district on Poland’s eastern flank bordering on Russia. A member of the ruling Law and Justice Party, which supports the controversial legislation, she didn’t mince words when asked if she had any concerns regarding Russian expansionism.
“Any Polish person would be concerned about Russia, period.” she said. “You see what is happening. The build up in Kaliningrad; you see what’s happened in the Ukraine and in Crimea.”
She also appeared to follow her party’s line on immigration. “Poland is not a rich country,” she said, adding that she considers terrorism a real threat in Europe and that Poles remain predominantly Catholic and don’t want their country to become Islamic.
“We have our own people to think about, and many don’t realize that we have taken in about a million Ukrainians who have been integrated and work in Poland. We also have placed a priority on Polish people who were deported to the east in World War II.”
In view of her family history and her personal interest in military affairs, she favors the presence of NATO troops in her district as a wise strategic move both for their deterrent significance and their economic value providing employment for her constituents.
During the interview, Ms. Anders also highlighted her visits to Agnes Scott College, where she reviewed her father’s history leading the Polish army fighting against the Germans on behalf of the Soviets until what came to be known as “Anders Army” evacuated in 1942 under a British, Soviet and Polish agreement. General Anders then led his troops and Polish families through Iran to British-ruled Palestine where those of Jewish origin joined Israel’s independence fighters.
She added that she was particularly touched by a chalk drawing that one of the students had drawn on a blackboard in honor of her visit.
Before leaving Atlanta, she attended a reception hosted by Lawrence Ashe at his home where she met Polish professors from local universities and economic development officials.
She said that she recounted for Georgia’s officials the success that she has had in establishing relations between Poland and Nevada, including both business and educational ties.
And she added that she would like to encourage a similar relationship with the possibility of a delegation from Georgia coming to Cracow, Poland, in June.
Ms. Anders may be reached by clicking here.