Polish Allied fighter who dedicated his life to combatting antisemitism in his homeland
IMET STEFAN Verne, who has died aged 88, many years ago on a guided tour of Amsterdam’s art galleries. His foreign accent prompted me to ask where he was from. When he said Poland, my friendly interest became hostility. I remembered what I knew about many centuries of antisemitism in Poland – at best, the inertia, at worst, the active collaboration of Poles during the Nazi extermination of 90 per cent of the country’s Jewish population.
I also remembered offensive antisemitic remarks made by a Polish colleague here in England. As I got to know Stefan, I told him all this, and I remain shamed by what I learned. Born in Warsaw, Stefan had been in a brutal German prison camp as a young boy, then captured and treated harshly by the Russian “liberators”. He escaped and joined the allied armies in Italy. His return to Poland saw the beginning of a commitment to addressing the antisemitism of many of his fellow-countrymen and campaigning for harmonious integration of the Jews of Poland as Poles. Too few voices were raised with Stefan’s during the Communist period, but this preoccupation continued to engage him when he went on to make his life in England, where he became an experimental chemist in several significant fields. He took his family to Poland regularly for holidays and his many activities also included co-writing a book on Polish Jewish relations and giving regular talks at meetings of the Council of Christians and Jews. Testimony to the success of Stefan Verne and Poles like him is to be found in the Museum of the History of Polish Jewry that opened on the site of the Warsaw Ghetto in 2013. Belated? Perhaps, but the extent of the debt to Poles like Stefan should not be underestimated. I am proud to have had such an admirable Polish friend.
Stefan Verne’s English wife Christine died in 2012. He is survived by two daughters and five grandchildren
Stefan Verne, born May 14,1928. Died November 22, 2016.
Stefan Verne: Poles owe him a debt