A woman was rushed to hospital today after a far-right member of Poland’s Parliament, Grzegorz Braun injured her while using a fire extinguisher to put out Chanukah candles in the government building in Warsaw.
Braun, known for his history of promoting antisemitic conspiracy theories and who has previously been accused of assault against a Holocaust historian, approached the holiday lamp in the parliamentary halls and sprayed it with a fire extinguisher, disrupting the ceremony.
“Those who take part in acts of satanic worship should be ashamed,” he said to reporters in the room before taking to the podium in the parliamentary chamber and claiming that Chanukah is “satanic.”
His antisemitic vandalism was an attempt to restore “normality,” he claimed.
The incident occurred during a busy day in Parliament, where Poland’s incoming Prime Minister Donald Tusk presented his proposed government. Debates were underway ahead of a vote of confidence, which Tusk was expected to win comfortably.
Braun has claimed that the “American empire here is the political and military tool of Jewish blackmail against Poland.”
The local Chabad emissary, Rabbi Sholom Ber Stambler, who led the ceremony, attended with his wife, Dina Stambler. After the menorah-lighting, some attendees began digging into doughnuts and latkes, and Stambler and other men had gathered to pray in a nearby room.
The festivities were swiftly interrupted by “a woman rushing in crying and trying to explain to us what was happening,” Stambler told JNS. “It took a few minutes for us to figure out what Braun had done, and then the evacuation of the building started.”
Two of Stambler’s children—a 7- and an 11-year-old—were in the room when Braun sprayed the extinguisher. “He leaned over them to reach the menorah,” Stambler said. “They got some of the spray in their eyes.”
“A woman in her 40s, who had a bad reaction to the extinguisher, has been rushed to hospital because of the fumes,” the rabbi told JNS. “She had been telling him to stop before she lost consciousness. We are praying for her.”
In the wake of the incident, Szymon Hołownia, Speaker of the Sejm—the lower house of Poland’s Parliament— swiftly announced Braun’s expulsion from proceedings and declared his intent to report the matter to prosecutors.
Hołownia also announced the maximum possible punishment for Braun, the loss of half of his parliamentary salary for three months and his entire parliamentary allowance for six months. The entire parliament leadership supported the decision, except the Confederation party representative, Krzysztof Bosak, who abstained from the vote.
Hołownia, a leader of Tusk’s incoming ruling coalition, called Braun’s actions and words “scandalous.”
Tusk denounced Braun’s behavior as a “disgrace” and “unacceptable.” Piotr Gliński, a deputy leader of the outgoing ruling Law and Justice party, also condemned Braun for “crossing a terrible line.”
Remarking on the response to the incident, Stambler suggested that “Braun obviously had dark intentions, but a small amount of light can put out a large amount of darkness.”
“I see that people are already reacting with a lot of tolerance and solidarity and are embarrassed that this guy is in their parliament—this is the most important thing,” he said. “I think the speaker [Hołownia] is out to assure us that such a thing will never happen again.”
Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the Conference of European Rabbis, said in a statement that “Braun’s violent behavior, taking a fire extinguisher to deface and put out the Chanukah lights lit in the Sejm, is a shocking disgrace.”
“His antisemitic tirade following the debacle is equally disturbing. No Parliament can accept such actions,” Goldschmidt added. “As for our response, no stunt, from ancient times until today, could ever stamp out Jewish culture and observance.”