Seven Atlantans traveled to Warsaw to help celebrate the launch of American Jewish Committee’s Central Europe office in the Polish capital.
Jacqueline Morris, Belinda Morris, Melanie Nelkin, Allan Nelkin, Bill Schwartz, Janice Ellin and Richard Ellin represented AJC Atlanta at the opening gala, which drew more than 500 government officials, diplomats, media members and European Jewish leaders to the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews on Monday, March 27.
AJC’s newest office marks the global organization’s expansion of its advocacy and diplomatic outreach in Europe. AJC has been one of the most active nongovernmental organizations promoting democratic transformation in Central and Eastern Europe since 1989.
AJC Central Europe serves seven countries: Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
AJC was able to open the office with donations from AJC President John Shapiro and his wife, Shonni Silverberg, as well as AJC Board of Governors chair Harriet Schleifer, AJC Executive Council member Steven Zelkowitz and AJC Board of Governors member Gail Binderman.
“I am glad that you have chosen the capital of Poland as the place from which the activities of AJC will extend all over our region,” Polish President Andrzej Duda said in a letter read by Polish Undersecretary of State Wojciech Kolarski. He praised AJC for its role in advancing the trans-Atlantic partnership.
“We still remember with gratitude your support for our aspirations,” Duda said, referring to AJC’s Senate testimony backing the admission of Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary to NATO after their Communist regimes fell. “The American Jewish Committee proved to be our valuable ally.”
Duda addressed the relationship between Poles and Jews. “I consider it meaningful that this gala takes place in the amazing Museum of the History of Polish Jews. This institution is critically important for preserving the truth about the common history of both our nations.”
He said AJC and Poland are working together to spread knowledge about what the Germans did on Polish soil during World War II. “I trust that we will continue to work effectively together in this crucially important issue of defending Poland’s good name and the historical truth.”
Former Latvian President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga delivered the gala’s keynote address.
“It is truly moving for me as a former president of one of the seven countries to be here for the opening of the AJC Central Europe office,” Vīķe-Freiberga said. “I am an old friend of AJC. Thank you, AJC, for what you have done not only for my country’s aspirations, but for all three Baltic states and four Visegrad nations.”
Vīķe-Freiberga spoke about the history of Jews in Central Europe.
“Do not forget that your ancestors who lived in our countries made important contributions that are worth remembering. Countries they loved became part of their heritage,” she said. “The roots from this part of the world are part of your Jewish heritage. Add to the richness of your heart, notwithstanding the bitterness you might feel toward some because of earlier atrocities committed against your people.”
The gala was the centerpiece of a brief mission to Warsaw by more than 130 U.S. AJC leaders, including the seven Atlantans, to mark the opening of AJC Central Europe. The visit began by celebrating Shabbat with members of the Polish Jewish community at Etz Chaim Synagogue on Friday night, March 24.
The AJC delegation met separately with the U.S. and Israeli ambassadors to Poland, Paul Jones and Anna Azari, respectively, on March 27, and both envoys addressed the gala that night.
The chief rabbi of Poland, Michael Shudrich, delivered the gala’s opening invocation, and the leader of Poland’s Catholic bishops, Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki, offered the closing benediction.
AJC CEO David Harris presented the Jan Karski Award to Andrzej Folwarczny, the founder and president of the Forum for Dialogue, an AJC partner organization. The forum and AJC established an annual exchange program 19 years ago to deepen understanding between Poles and American Jews.
“Andrzej captures the spirit of Jan Karski, a true hero of humanity,” Harris said. “Thanks to Andrzej’s vision to bridge the abyss between Poland and Israel, between Poland and Jews, many have come to understand each other better. Together, they are determined to become authors of history, not its prisoners. Andrzej is an author.”
Karski, a member of the Polish underground, let himself be taken to Auschwitz, gathered evidence of the atrocities there, then escaped and reported his findings to the U.S. government.
“It is a great honor to receive this award. Jan Karski is a role model for us at the Forum for Dialogue. This award is a tribute to our longstanding partnership with AJC,” Folwarczny said. “More than 300 people have participated directly in our Polish-Jewish exchange program. They have created a unique network of people who care about Polish-Jewish relations.”