Controversy has flared anew over Chester Grabowski, the Clifton newspaper publisher who died last April. He has been hailed by some as a strong advocate for Polish causes, but reviled by others as an anti-Semite.
The latest dispute involves a suggestion that a portion of Richardson Scale Park in Clifton be named for Grabowski, who published the Post Eagle. The suggestion for the renaming has been shelved by Clifton’s nonpartisan town council. No action has been taken and none is under consideration now, council members said.
But the issue has drawn a vehement response from Alan Dershowitz, the noted civil rights lawyer and supporter of Jewish causes. In a broadcast news report Dershowitz called Grabowski a “monster … a Hitler-rubbing, Holocaust-denying anti-Semite,” and promised to lead protests if the measure to rename the park after him should be pursued.
Criticism of the publisher, who ran for governor and for Congress, involves published comments that the Holocaust claimed 2 million rather than 6 million Jews, and that both stories published in his paper and actions that he took supported the KKK and neo-Nazis. Published reports said Grabowski had referred to Jews as “vermin,” “animals,” and “Christ-killers.”
In 1988, Grabowski’s paper ran a cartoon wishing “All Polonia a Merry Christmas from the Slavic members of the Invisible Empire Knights of the Ku Kux Klan, Inc.” The cartoon showed Santa Klaus with a KKK hood, columnist Mike Kelly of The Record reported.
Grabowski ran for governor in 1977 and 1981, then ran for Congress in 1990. As reported in The Record, Grabowski’s congressional run was on the Populist Party’s slate, and the platform was openly anti-Israel. The Populist Party already had backed former KKK leader David Duke for president. The Record reported that Grabowski said that the six-pointed star on a dollar bill proved that the Jews were trying to “…push to destroy Christianity.”
Mayor James Anzaldi said that letters in support of the renaming measure have been “received and filed,” meaning that in effect the measure has been shelved.
Clifton Councilwoman Mary Sadrakula, a critic of Grabowski, acknowledged that no action has been taken on the matter.
“It’s just awful,” she said. “I am the only councilperson to date who has publicly stated that I won’t name anything for Chester Grabowski.” She said published material showed “he was an anti-Semite, a follower of the KKK, and a neo-Nazi supporter. It’s disgraceful.”
“Good,” said Jeffrey Salkin, the Anti-Defamation League’s New Jersey regional director, when he was told of the Clifton council’s action. “This reflects excellent judgment and sensitivity. There are certainly far worthier people to honor with such a designation.”
“Mr. Grabowski has a long record of making anti-Semitic statements as well as opening the pages of the Post Eagle to bigoted material,” he said. “The ADL had been monitoring his activities.”
Initial support for the proposal from Passaic County Sheriff Richard Berdnik and Rep. Bill Pascrell, has been withdrawn.
“To be clear, there can never be room for anti-Semitism in any context. I am very surprised by the past remarks I recently read that were attributed to Chester Grabowski,” Pascrell said in a statement.
“This was not the man I knew. The Chester Grabowski I remember was not only a dedicated leader in his community, but a proud advocate for all Polish Americans, who helped raise a great family who I deeply admire. My letter of support was a reflection of that work. Based on what has been brought to my attention, I must withdraw my letter of support,” the statement said.
The issue has provided fuel for political skirmishing. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, a Republican opposing Democrat Pascrell in the 9th District, has blasted the stand taken by his opponent.
“Bill Pascrell’s support of renaming a park after a rancid and public anti-Semite unfortunately follows a pattern of associating himself with outspoken bigots, whom he renounces only in the face of significant media scrutiny,” Boteach said in a statement.
Matthew Grabowski, the publisher’s son, is a Clifton councilman. He said that his family is anguished about the situation.
“I lived with my father all my life, and he was not an anti-Semite,” the younger Grabowski said. ”
“If there is any merit to the accusations, why are they coming out now?” he said. “It’s very hurtful. I wish my father were alive to defend himself.”