Euro 2012 fans: Come and see Poland's Jewish revival an hour from Auschwitz

By Jennifer Lipman, June 8, 2012

Jewish football fans should not let media scaremongering about antisemitism in Poland put them off visiting and seeing for themselves the country's Jewish revival.

Jonathan Ornstein, the director of the World Jewish Relief-funded Jewish Community Centre of Krakow, said that life for Jews in Poland was "not as bad as people make it out to be" and was in his opinion better than "just about anywhere else in Europe".

Mr Ornstein was interviewed earlier this year for Panorama's investigation into racism and prejudice in Poland and Ukraine, ahead of Euro 2012.

He said his remarks had been portrayed by the BBC in a way that reinforced people's expectations about problems in Poland, rather than challenged them.

"In the same sense , you [British] have the Olympics and you could show the riots from last year and say 'do you think people should go to London', and they would say no," he said. "They are showing one element. There are problems in the stadiums, there is antisemitism, but there is antisemitism anywhere.

"The idea [that] it is unsafe to visit if you are Jewish is absurd."

Mr Ornstein expressed the hope that visitors would leave behind their fears and see first-hand the revival of Jewish life in Krakow, 70 years after the Nazis liquidated the ghetto there.

"Krakow is really being rebuilt from within, thousands of people have Jewish roots and went underground during Communism, people didn't feel safe acknowledging that they had them," he said. But he believed that Krakow's Jewish community, which he estimated to include 400 formal members, was one where people now felt comfortable being Jewish.

"In Europe Jewish people feel that they need to wall themselves off and to be distant from the communities. We in Krakow feel very safe.

"One of the most important stories in the Jewish community today is the rebirth and the revitalisation of Krakow, especially considering all the bad things that have happened here in the 20th century.

"That this forward-looking, open, progressive community which is rebuilding, an hour away from Auschwitz, is a very powerful message about redemption."

He added that fans who came for the sport should not only stop off at Auschwitz but take time to see "a vibrant growing Jewish community".

Last updated: 1:02pm, June 8 2012