Cardinal ‘ashamed’ after lawmaker puts out Hanukkah candles in Poland’s parliament

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Grzegorz Braun, a member of the far-right political alliance Confederation who serves in the Polish parliament in Warsaw, speaks after he was excluded from a session by Polish Speaker of Parliament Szymon Holownia after Braun used a fire extinguisher to put out the Hanukkah menorah candles at the parliament Dec. 12, 2023. (OSV News photo/Dawid Zuchowicz, Agencja via Reuters)

WARSAW, Poland (OSV News) — Cardinal Grzegorz Rys of Lodz, chairman of the Committee for Dialogue with Judaism of the Polish bishops’ conference, strongly condemned the incident in which a far-right Polish lawmaker used a fire extinguisher to put out Hanukkah candles in the Sejm, the country’s parliament.

“In connection with the incident in the Sejm committed by Mr. MP Grzegorz Braun, who extinguished the Hanukkah candles and declared that he was not ashamed of what he had done, I declare that I am ashamed and apologize to the entire Jewish community in Poland,” Cardinal Rys wrote Dec. 12.

Braun, who belongs to the Confederation party, provoked outrage from members of faith communities and other members of parliament when he used a fire extinguisher to put out Hanukkah candles Dec. 12 during an afternoon event with members of the Jewish community. Traditional lighting of Hanukkah candles has taken place for the last 17 years in the Polish Sejm.

Hanukkah candles extinguished in Parliament

Rabbi Szalom Ber Stambler and Deputy Speaker of Parliament Piotr Zgorzelski lit Hanukkah candles before Braun put them out.

“All decent people think exactly the same thing, this is an unacceptable thing, this must never happen again. This is a disgrace,” said Donald Tusk, newly appointed prime minister.

Poland’s Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich told Reuters by telephone that Braun’s actions were not representative of the country and that he was “embarrassed” by them.

Grzegorz Braun, a lawmaker from the Confederation party who serves in the Polish parliament, holds a fire extinguisher to put out Hanukkah candles at the parliament in Warsaw in this screengrab from a video Dec. 12, 2023. (OSV News photo/Sebastian Napieraj, TVN24 via via Reuters)

‘They cannot extinguish us

“Someone extinguished the Hanukkah candles and a few minutes later we relit them,” Rabbi Schudrich told Reuters. “For thousands of years our enemies have been trying to extinguish us, from the time of the Maccabees right through to Hamas. But our enemies should learn, they cannot extinguish us,” he added.

Polish private television channel TVN24 posted footage on its website that showed Braun using the extinguisher on the Hanukkah menorah, or hanukkiah — a nine-branched candelabrum lit during the eight-day Jewish holiday of Hanukkah — creating a white cloud.

Asked just after the incident if he was ashamed, Braun replied: “Those who take part in acts of satanic worship should be ashamed,” Reuters agency reported.

Defending religious symbols

Magdalena Gudzinska-Adamczyk, a medical doctor, who took part in the candle-lighting ceremony is shown on the video trying to protect the light.

“I thought someone had been burned, something had caught fire, but it turned out that he was attacking the hanukkiah with this powder extinguisher … a religious symbol, a thing important to me, so I stood in his way and he then splashed the powder extinguisher in my face,” she told reporters, shattered with emotions.

“This is my religious symbol, I have the right to defend it, because we live in a free, democratic country. And no one has the right to direct a powder extinguisher in my face because I am defending my religious symbol,” she said.

Security guards rushed people out of the area.

Parliament’s speaker Szymon Holownia invited representatives of the Jewish community, including children, for its annual Hanukkah celebrations.

Holownia excluded Braun from the sitting of parliament and said he would inform prosecutors about his actions. He later said that Braun would lose half of his salary for three months and all parliamentary expenses for six months.

“There will be no tolerance for racism, xenophobia, antisemitism … as long as I am the speaker of parliament,” Holownia told reporters.

Paulina Guzik

Paulina Guzik is international editor for OSV News. Follow her on Twitter @Guzik_Paulina.