NEW YORK — The president of Poland has given his support to a Jewish commemoration of the 1946 Kielce pogrom and to the return of property once owned by Jews and the Jewish community.
President Aleksander Kwasniewski made the pledges last Friday, when he met with World Jewish Congress vice president Kalman Sultanik.
Kwasniewski wants to create a new chapter of ties between Poland and Jewish communities around the world, Sultanik said in a telephone interview from Warsaw.
"I feel that this president is disposed to find better relations with Jews everywhere," the WJC official said, adding that the Polish leader said there was no room in Poland for anti-Semitism.
Sultanik said Kwasniewski would see to it that the Kielce pogrom would be commemorated in July, which is 50 years after the massacre occurred.
Sultanik's visit comes after a recent letter from the Polish foreign minister to the WJC in which he asked the Jewish community for forgiveness for the pogrom.
"The new democratic Poland deeply regrets and mourns all the injustice suffered by the Jewish people," the letter from Foreign Minister Dariusz Rosati said.
"In 1996, we shall shed tears over the victims of the infamous Kielce pogrom, which was committed 50 years ago during the chaos of the Polish civil war."
The president added that he would look into the idea of including two Jews in the current investigation of the massacre.
Kielce, a southern Polish city that had a Jewish population of 24,000 at the start of World War II, was virtually eliminated during the Holocaust.
Polish anti-Semitism, which has a long history, was intense in the mid-1940s, and rumors spread that masses of Jews would soon return to claim their former houses and belongings. It was also rumored that the blood libel, the false accusation that Jews murder Christian children and drain their blood for ritual use, was taking place.
In early July 1946, a mob attacked and massacred 42 Jews and wounded about 50 more. The event touched off a mass Jewish migration from Central and Eastern European countries.
In addition last Friday, Kwasniewski promised that legislation on restoring some of the communal properties — such as the synagogues and schools taken over by Communist authorities after the war — to Poland's tiny Jewish community would be passed "as soon as possible," Sultanik said.
The question of private property restitution remains open, but some progress has been made.
Before the outbreak of World War II, about 3.3 million Jews lived in Poland, comprising nearly 10 percent of the total Polish population.
About 3 million Jews — or 90 percent of Poland's prewar Jewish population — were annihilated during the war.