Antisemitic poster features on Polish tourism leaflet

Warsaw produces calendar to promote itself - and includes a poster showing Jews as rats

By Karen Glaser, December 29, 2011
Contrast: the beautiful Old Town

Contrast: the beautiful Old Town

Civic leaders in Warsaw have come up with a novel way of promoting their town to tourists – with an image of kippot-wearing rats fleeing a flame thrower.

They reproduced an antisemitic pre second world war poster to use as one of the images to illustrate their 2012 calendar.

The glossy publication, produced in conjunction with leading Polish artists and arts organisations, contains a forward from Warsaw's mayor Hanna Gronkiewicz-Walc who describes it as: "a beautiful showcase for the masterpieces of Polish graphic art". He adds: "We can feel the atmosphere of bygone days."

One of them ended up on the desk of Barbara Sulek-Kowalska, a lecturer at Warsaw University and a member of the Polish Council of Christians and Jews. In an open letter, she asked the mayor why she had authorised the publication of an image that compared people to vermin:

She said: "Is it possible that you didn't look at the calendar properly before you 'passed' it?

The flame thrower poster

The flame thrower poster

"Material of this kind should be used as research material by historians, not as part of a calendar that promotes the city."

Council spokesman Bartosz Milczarczyk admitted that he had looked at all the illustrations carefully, with deputy mayor Wlodzimierz Paszynski. They decided it contained nothing inappropriate.

He said. "The poster is antisemitic but the idea behind the project was to show the emotions of old Warsaw.

"Let's not pretend we have nothing to be ashamed of - in those days, antisemitism was quite strong."

He wasn't wrong about that. The words at the bottom of the poster read: "Fight for the wellbeing of Poland through national solidarity. Defend Poland from the Jewish invasion."

But Mr Milczarczyk says the reproduction of the poster is not an attempt to promote antisemitism, adding that the calendar was "unlikely to be seen by the narrow-minded".

Sadly, the calendar proved so popular, it sold out and a reprint has been ordered.

In the past 20 years Warsaw has proved a classic example of what a make-over and a change of regime can do for a city, moving away from its grey, concrete Soviet bloc architecture to become quite trendy.

It is one of a quartet of Polish Uneseco World Heritage towns (along with Krakow, Zamosc and Torun) with a history vivid enough to entice travellers.

Last year it attracted 600,000 tourist from Great Britain and Ireland.

Last updated: 12:43pm, December 29 2011