Tad Taube in a crowd of thousands at the closing night of concert of the Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow, July 2007.
Tad Taube in a crowd of thousands at the closing night of concert of the Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow, July 2007.

Tad Taube, Poland’s man in S.F., ‘distressed’ by Holocaust speech law

Philanthropist Tad Taube is distressed by the acrimony between Poles and Jews over Poland’s controversial new Holocaust speech law, likening his reaction to a parent whose kid has gotten into trouble at school.

Taube is a native of Krakow and Poland’s honorary consul for the San Francisco Bay Area. Through his Jewish Heritage Initiative in Poland, the real estate magnate has helped fund the recent Jewish renaissance in Poland, which once had the world’s largest Jewish population before 90 percent of it was wiped out in the Holocaust.

The new legislation criminalizes any suggestion of Poland’s complicity in the Holocaust on its soil. It’s a law Taube decries as an “unfortunate misstep taken by the Polish government,” though he also thinks international condemnation of the law has been overblown.

“If your kid gets in trouble in school, you’re going to be distressed. I think of the Poles as sort of my extended family, and obviously I’m distressed to see things that are not moving in a constant straight-line direction,” he said during an interview in his Belmont office. “Having worked to change Poland dramatically, as I believe we have, I don’t want to see anything happen that would set back the progress we’ve made.”

For the past 15 years, the Taube Foundation has supported the revitalization of Jewish life and culture in cities such as Warsaw and Krakow through its initiative in Poland, which also seeks to promote interest among Jews worldwide in Poland and its Jewish community.

Among its major projects has been significant financial support of the Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, which honors the 1,000-year history of Jews in the country.

Taube notes that the Polish government continues to support the revitalization effort — and he thinks that process will survive the rancor over the Holocaust law.

“I don’t think it’s going to set it back,” he said. “What it will set back is the excitement we have engendered in the rest of the world about visiting Poland.”

Polish President Andrzej Duda signed the bill in early February, but then responded to domestic and international outrage over the legislation by saying he would delay its implementation pending a court review. Nevertheless, the law went into effect March 1.

The law has been condemned by Israeli leaders, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu likening it to Holocaust denial, and by Jewish organizations such as the World Jewish Congress. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned that the law “adversely affects freedom of speech and academic inquiry.”

About 6 million Poles were killed during World War II, including 3 million Polish Jews — nearly half of all the Jews murdered in the Holocaust.

I don’t want to see anything happen that would set back the progress we’ve made.

The law makes it a crime, punishable by up to three years in prison, to accuse “the Polish nation” of complicity in the Holocaust. Historians say that would cover up the role of some Poles in deadly pogroms during and after World War II.

The Polish League Against Defamation filed suit in Warsaw last week against the Argentine paper Pagina 12 under the new law. The paper published an article about a 1941 pogrom by Nazi occupiers and local inhabitants against their Jewish neighbors in the town of Jedwabne, an incident that caused the death of at least 340 Jews and has become a symbol of Polish collaboration with Nazi crimes.

Though thousands of Poles risked their lives to save Jewish neighbors — more than 6,800 Poles are recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations, the most of any country — others betrayed or attacked Jews.

Criticism of the law by Israel and Jewish organizations has led to a backlash and a surge of anti-Semitism in Poland. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki added fuel to the conflict when he said “Jewish perpetrators” bore partial responsibility for the Holocaust.

Polish and Israeli officials met last week in Jerusalem to discuss the diplomatic fallout from passage of the law. Netanyahu has rejected calls from Knesset members to recall Israel’s ambassador to Poland.

The L.A.-headquartered Simon Wiesenthal Center, citing the Polish law and the resulting anti-Semitism, said last week it was considering issuing a travel advisory to Jews worldwide to limit their travel to Poland.

“In 2018, we fear for a Poland that has now seen the history of the Holocaust recast by political forces who seek to bury the ugly past that includes the murder of Jews by Poles during the Holocaust and in the immediate aftermath of World War II,” Rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper said in a statement released by the Wiesenthal Center.

Taube rejected the need for such a travel warning, and pointed out that Polish sensitivities also need to be considered. Among nations, Poland suffered most under the Nazis. And Taube said Poland is no more anti-Semitic than many other European countries.

The current ill will over the Holocaust law will pass, he said, allowing the Jewish renewal in Poland to continue.

“I feel no hostility toward the Poles or the Polish government. I think they’ve done some stupid things, but this will pass and we won’t even be talking about this a few weeks from now,” Taube said.

“That relationship has been ongoing for centuries. It’s like a marriage — relationships need work. There are occasional struggles, there’s many misunderstandings, but inevitably the good ones hold together, and this has been a relationship that’s gone on for over a thousand years and it’s going to go on for another thousand years.”

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Rob Gloster

Rob Gloster is J.'s senior writer. He can be reached at rob@jweekly.com.