Warsaw Gala Celebrates Opening of AJC Central Europe Office

AJC Central Europe officially launched its new office with a gala in the capital of Poland. More than 500 government officials, diplomats, members of the media, and Jewish leaders from across Europe attended the celebratory event, which was held at the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw on Monday evening.

For AJC (American Jewish Committee), its newest office marks the global Jewish organization’s expansion of its advocacy and diplomatic outreach in Europe. AJC has been one of the most active non-governmental organizations promoting democratic transformation in Central and Eastern Europe since 1989.

AJC Central Europe is dedicated to seven Central European countries: the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Slovakia.

The office was made possible by the generosity of John Shapiro, AJC’s President, and his wife, Dr. Shonni Silverberg, as well as Harriet Schleifer, chair of AJC’s Board of Governors; Steven Zelkowitz, a member of AJC’s Executive Council; and Gail Binderman, a member of AJC’s Board of Governors.

“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,” said Polish President Andrzej Duda, in a letter read by his Undersecretary of State, Minister Wojciech Kolarski. He praised AJC for its role over the years in advancing the transatlantic partnership.

“We still remember with gratitude your support for our aspirations,” said Duda, referring to AJC’s Senate testimony for Poland (and the Czech Republic and Hungary) joining NATO after the collapse of the communist regime. “The American Jewish Committee proved to be our valuable ally.”

The president also spoke about the unique 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,” said Duda. “Today we are building our prosperous future and jointly commemorating the memory of our common Polish and Jewish heroes. The knowledge of what happened on our soil during World War II and in times of German occupation is disseminated across the world thanks to the efforts of AJC. I trust that we will continue work effectively together in this crucially important issue of defending Poland’s good name and the historical truth.”

The opening of AJC Central Europe was saluted by Dr. Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga, President of Latvia (1999-2007), and the current President of the Club of Madrid, who delivered the 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,” said Vīķe-Freiberga. “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.”

Vike-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 towards some because of earlier atrocities committed against your people.”

U.S. Ambassador to Poland Paul Jones and Israeli Ambassador to Poland Anna Azari also addressed the gala. Earlier in the day, the large AJC delegation met separately with the two ambassadors, who welcomed AJC’s new office in Warsaw.

Rabbi Michael Shudrich, Chief Rabbi of Poland, delivered the opening invocation, and Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki, President of the Polish Episcopal Conference, delivered the closing benediction.

During the gala, AJC CEO David Harris presented the organization’s prestigious Jan Karski Award to Andrzej Folwarczny, Founder and President of the Forum for Dialogue, an AJC partner organization. Nineteen years ago, the Forum and AJC established a pioneering annual exchange program to deepen understanding between Poles and American Jews.

“Andrzej captures the spirit of Jan Karski, a true hero of humanity,” said Harris. “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.”

“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,” said Folwarczny. “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. These people are the best advocates of our mission and examples of our success.”

An AJC leadership delegation met today with President Duda for a 90-minute discussion. AJC CEO David Harris noted: “The President was exceptionally warm and gracious. He spoke of his joy at the opening of the AJC Central Europe office in Warsaw, calling it a ‘very welcome development.’ He also strongly condemned anti-Semitism, while assuring our group that the problem today in Poland is far less acute than in some other European countries. Moreover, he reaffirmed his friendship for Israel, which he recently visited, and the strong Polish-Israeli relationship.”

The March 27 gala was the centerpiece of a larger mission to Warsaw to mark the opening of AJC Central Europe. More than 130 AJC leaders from across the U.S. traveled to Poland to attend the celebratory event. The three-day visit to Poland began on Friday evening celebrating Shabbat with members of the Polish Jewish community at services at Etz Chaim synagogue, followed by a Shabbat dinner.