At a time of increasing anti-Semitism in many parts of the world, it is deeply disturbing that the city of Clifton, N.J. — in the shadows of New York City — is considering naming a park after a virulent anti-Semite and racist named Chester Grabowski, who died in April.
At least one obituary of Grabowski earlier this year innocuously called him an “advocate for Polish-Americans.” But the truth is much more troubling.
For decades, Grabowski published a newspaper in Clifton called The Post Eagle. In that newspaper, Grabowski repeatedly referred to Jews as “vermin,” “animals,” and “Christ killers.”
Grabowski refused to comply with the dictates of Vatican II in 1965, which declared it a sin to promote anti-Semitism or to blame the Jews for killing Christ. Instead, he urged his readers to never “forget and forgive them for deciding to kill our God, and their God, which they refused to recognize.”
Nor was Grabowski’s anti-Semitism unknown to people in the area. A 1984 article written about Grabowski in the Bergen Record documented his hate-filled writings and described them as “vitriolic anti-Semitic diatribes.”
Grabowski himself was a Holocaust denier who published material accusing Jews of fomenting anti-Semitism, imposing Communism on Poland and creating virtually all the evils in the world.
Little wonder the Anti-Defamation League, dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry, consistently condemned Grabowski.
Not only was Grabowski anti-Semitic, he was a racist who published an advertisement from the Ku Klux Klan wishing “all polenta a merry White Christmas” — and illustrating that racist wish with a drawing of Santa Claus wearing a Klan hood.
Yet despite this well-known and extensive documentation of Grabowski’s anti-Semitism and bigotry, the proposal to name a park — where young children will play — after him has received significant support among public officials in the Clifton area. Among the idea’s backers were Sheriff Richard Berdnik and local Congressman Bill Pascrell.
But when Pascrell learned of Grabowski’s background, he changed his mind, saying, “There can be never be room for anti-Semitism in any context.” Sheriff Berdnik also withdrew his support. But some public officials, even after hearing of Grabowski’s long history of bigotry, have continued to push for the proposal to name the park after him.
The primary advocate for this outrageous proposal has been Grabowski’s son, Matthew, who serves as the member of the City Council of Clifton. In interviews, he claims that his father’s motives and beliefs have been distorted and taken out of context.
The son must be aware of his father’s long history of anti-Semitism and racism. Yet he continues to press for honoring his father, because, he claims, his father did other good things for the Polish-American community.
That is simply unacceptable. The central theme by which the late Grabowski sought to unite Polish-Americans was old-fashioned anti-Semitism and anti-black racism.
This is not about critics like myself misunderstanding the Polish perspective on history. The current Polish government has rejected anti-Semitism and has tried hard to build bridges with the Jewish community and with Israel. Most Polish-Americans today have no patience for Grabowski’s brand of bigotry, either.
If Clifton goes forward with the proposal to name the park after Grabowski, that city and that park will become symbols of bigotry around the world.
Nobody ever tried to stop Grabowski from exercising his free speech. Under our First Amendment, he was entitled to engage in hate speech, just as the Nazis who marched through Skokie, Ill., were entitled to spew their hatred.
But Skokie did not honor the Nazis that marched through its streets. If Clifton decides to honor its most famously anti-Semitic and racist resident, it will stand for prejudice.
I have a better idea about who the park should be named after. Jan Karski was a distinguished Polish-American who taught human rights at Georgetown University. As a young Catholic lawyer in Poland, he documented the Holocaust being committed against Polish Jews, and risked his life to tell the world about it. The street adjoining the Polish Consulate in New York is now named in Karski’s honor, and Karski posthumously received the Medal of Freedom from the U.S.
When the children of Clifton are playing in the park, and they ask about the person after whom it was named, it would be far better to tell them about the honorable life of Jan Karski than about the dishonorable life of Chester Grabowski.
**A version of this column appeared in The Daily News.
Alan M. Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. He is a graduate of Brooklyn College and Yale Law School. Read more reports from Alan M. Dershowitz — Click Here Now.
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