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U.S. Jewish Group Told Convent Solution is Near

December 7, 1989

WARSAW, Poland (AP) _ The Roman Catholic church will begin building an ecumenical center next year to house nuns from a convent outside the Auschwitz death camp, leaders from the American Jewish Congress said Wednesday.

Robert K. Lifton, president of the congress, and Henry Siegman, its executive director, said their discussions this week with Catholic primate Cardinal Jozef Glemp and the Krakow archbishop, Cardinal Franciszek Macharski, demonstrated a commitment to complete the center.

″The decision to proceed was irreversible,″ Siegman said at a news conference at the offices of Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki following a meeting with Mazowiecki.

The group said it has designated a Polish citizen to act as its permanent representative to maintain relations between Poland and the Jewish community in the United States. They said he would be the first ″permanent link″ between American Jews and Poles in Poland since the outbreak of World War II.

The delegation agreed with the Roman Catholic Church leaders to help formulate ″programs that will educate Catholics about Jews on the local parish level.″

Lifton said the delegation from the New York-based American Jewish Congress delegation came to Poland to acquaint itself with the dramatic political changes in the country under its new Solidarity-led government and to talk about relations between Jews and Polish Catholics.

Besides meeting Mazowiecki and church leaders, they had talks with Solidarity leader Lech Walesa and Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz.

Polish-Jewish relations were strained this year when the Roman Catholic Church indicated it would renege on a 1987 promise to move the convent housing 14 Carmelite nuns from just outside the Auschwitz fence to the proposed ecumenical center for prayer and education.

A small group of American Jews led by Rabbi Avi Weiss entered the convent grounds as a protest and were removed by construction workers. A subsequent sermon by Glemp was viewed by many Jews as containing anti-Semitic language.

But in recent months, a Vatican statement upholding the agreement to move the nuns and conciliatory talks between Glemp and Jewish leaders in London appear to have repaired most of the damage from the incidents. Lifton stressed the need to improve future relations instead of dwelling on past injuries.

Lifton and Siegman were critical of Weiss, and Siegman said his actions had caused ″terrible damages to all of the objectives close to the American Jewish community and the state of Israel, not to mention the local Jewish community.″

They said it was important for Poles to understand that Weiss was acting only on his own account and was not representing ″any important segment of the American Jewish community.″

The Jewish leaders gave the new Solidarity government high marks for its commitment to fight anti-Semitism in Poland, where only a few thousand Jews remain from a pre-war community of about 3.5 million.

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