Speech by Marian Turski on October 29, 2023

Marian Turski ubrany w niebieską koszulę i marynarkę. Podpiera twarz dłonią i patrzy przed siebie.
fot. M. Jaźwiecki / Muzeum Historii Żydów Polskich

Dear Friends,

On this square, at POLIN Museum, you can see an exhibition of Monika Krajewska’s paintings for some time now. They illustrate the parables and commandments of our forefathers. One of them says:

"Even when all the gates are closed, the gates of tears remain open."

After October 7, our gates of tears are wide open...

One could say that tears are a part of human fate because death is a part of our life. We are born, we die; some die either from being hit with a club or from an earthquake, cancer, a stabbing, a bullet, or a bomb. Each of us, each of us has a period of trauma, bitterness, regret, sadness, pain, and suffering after someone departs...

But death is not equal to death. I don't know what you saw on your screens on October 7. I was in Vilnius on October 7 and 8, and one of the TV channels showed drastic scenes of the Hamas attack for only a short time... These scenes were so drastic that I don't know if Polish television even allowed them to be broadcasted. You've heard of them. If I say that the victims were shot as sitting ducks, that is the least of what I will say… They even shot the dogs passing by. They tormented their victims. They went from room to room… What came to mind at that moment was what I saw in Auschwitz and on the death marches. But you, who were fortunately born later, know this even from movies. For example, from Spielberg's "Schindler's List." There, Amon Goeth goes out onto the balcony (this is real) and shoots with a rifle. Yes, he has fun at it; he enjoys hitting victims.

The difference between death and death is that the latter death is the death that someone inflicts out of the desire to kill, the desire to murder. He inflicts it to humiliate the one who dies, so that he suffers, and so that – before he dies – he is overcome with fear and terror. This is the difference between death and death. That's why our gates of tears are so wide open. And that's why we came here.

A few days after the Hamas attack, there was a pro-Palestinian demonstration in Warsaw, the main element of which was the well-known banner or poster with the message: The State of Israel and its inhabitants, should end up in a garbage bin.

This brought to mind an episode that I would like to share with you. When my distinguished friend Władysław Bartoszewski, then Minister of Foreign Affairs, was about to visit Israel and the Palestinian Authority, he invited me to accompany him. We prepared for this visit. Experts and others were asked to prepare an analysis – Bartoszewski dreamed of being a part of the reconciliation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Experts were commissioned to examine primary school textbooks in Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The angle: image of the Arab in a Jewish textbook and image of the Jew in an Arab textbook. When we arrived – I know this because I did not take part directly in the talks themselves, I was an accompanying person – Władek Bartoszewski told me that they had talks with Israeli experts. They did not always agree with what was being presented to them, but the conversations were constructive. They promised to try to change something. What was there to say to the other side? Not much, because there, as in this poster, every young Palestinian was prepared from childhood that he had someone in front of him who needed to be wiped out from this land... By the way, let me tell you, we waited several hours for Arafat. He must have had an accident because we ended up sitting there waiting. He sent his brother Dr. Arafat. So, our comments were passed on to him. What happened next? I have no idea.

Friends, before October 15, I saw many people here who thought like me. We had fears and concerns about the direction of Polish democracy. They were justified, in my opinion at least, in our opinion (maybe not everyone shares this view). Before October 7, we had, and I mean those who think like me, we had many fears and question marks about the direction of Israeli democracy. A cause for worry – those in very important political positions who influence the shape, the face of democracy, its direction, its tolerance or intolerance of – I will say openly – exuberant nationalists who did not hide their ideological ties with the murderer of Prime Minister Isaac Rabin. But after October 7, I must refer to the famous words of Władysław Broniewski:

"Our country has a list of wrongs,
But wipe them out no hostile hand will dare…
But [when they come] set fire, burn […] down, your home
Bayonet in hand!"

Hamas, in its ideology and intentions, wants to remove, wants to erase Israel from a place where my companions in misfortune, survivors like me, wanted to start building a new life for themselves and for their descendants, a peaceful life, where Jews expelled from many Arab countries had to look for a new place. I am with them. I think that's why we came here, so that they know: we are with you!

I know that this may be the very subjective point of view of a person who has relatives, friends, and companions there. And it is the second country, after Poland, where I was born, that is closest to my heart. So, is it a subjective view? Maybe, but I would like, as a historian, to look at this problem in pursuit of utmost objectivity.

Let us now imagine – forgive me for saying this – that Hamas achieves its goals, that it is able to throw Israelis into the sea, to wipe out this state. What might happen then? Imagine what a driving wheel this is, a flywheel for all Muslim brotherhoods, for jihadists, for bin Laden's heirs, for the Taliban. This would be a coup in many African and Asian countries! A coup that would threaten our civilization because we know what the Islamic State was doing. So, it is in the interest of the world that shares our values, the world of our civilization, in the interest of the leaders of this world, that Israel is not alone!

That's why we're here. So that those in Israel know: You will never be alone! We will be with you! Because going back would mean reversing the historical process by 500 years. Maybe a thousand years. Who knows? In an area equal to two Europes.

Fortunately, there is also the State of Israel, its strong army and support, which I hope the civilized world can provide in its own interest. And I think that we should also reach out to European societies, including our Polish one, with this argument. So that the world understands that the people who are fighting there are also fighting for our future, for the future of our children.

Dear friends, words are very important, but maybe some tangible commitment is also important. So, I hereby declare: From the day after tomorrow, from November 1, for the next year, every month I will pay tithe from my pension to Israel. For what purpose? I'm wondering. At first, I think of Magen David Adom, the equivalent of our Red Cross. If the organizers of this meeting, if the Israeli Embassy suggest another addressee, I would be happy to send my tithe to them during the coming year.

Now, in conclusion, I would like words, two words, to go to Israel from this place, from this gathering, from this monument. These are two words that I heard as a 10-year-old boy from my father, who was later gassed in Auschwitz. I had to learn these words so that I would know the commandment of the pioneers in Israel. The words, in Hebrew, are:

"Chazak we'ematz! Be strong and brave!"