President Lech Walesa, laying a wreath by the memorial to the 6 million Jews who died in the Holocaust, once again Tuesday asked "absolution" for the crimes committed by Poles who cooperated with the Nazis in World War II.
Walesa, in his second day of a four-day visit to Israel, toured the Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, and asked for help in building a new Poland free of intolerance and anti-Semitism."I ask absolution for the evil that was done even though I did not participate in it," Walesa said. "It is difficult for us to understand what the people in Poland went through during the period of the Holocaust."
In the memorial visitors' book he wrote, "It is impossible to understand."
Walesa's visit, the first ever by a Polish head of state, is geared to clear the air of painful memories and establish economic ties between Poland and Israel. On Monday, he asked forgiveness from the Israeli Knesset, or parliament.
The former Solidarity leader, who was accused of fostering anti-Semitic sentiment during his election campaign, received something close to forgiveness from Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who said it was time for the two countries to work together.
Polish-born Shamir lost most of his family in Nazi-occupied Poland. Yet he said Walesa represented a "new Poland" and toasted the promise of a Polish-Israeli relationship with a traditional Jewish phrase that struck an especially poignant note: "To life."
Shamir spoke at a small luncheon about his childhood days and the inspiration Polish nationalist movements gave to Jewish underground movements trying to establish a national homeland in Palestine. He said there was a rich cultural exchange that ran alongside Polish intolerance toward Jews between the two World Wars.
"I remember all of this: the glory, the colorfulness, the rich Jewish culture, the spirit that beat in the heart and also the degrading poverty and the humiliating anti-Semitism," Shamir said.
Walesa echoed Shamir's descriptions and said it was time to shift from the past to the future. All that was good between Poles and Jews in the past must serve as the basis for their relationship today, Walesa said outside Yad Vashem.