In 1989, someone suggested that I visit Poland, my birthplace, where sixty members of my family were murdered. He told me that while there I should meet with Lech Walesa, then the head of the Solidarity Union.
Though I had neither reason nor inclination to return to Poland, I reported the request to the Rebbe during the course of an audience with him.
The Rebbe replied that there were still many Jews in Poland, and a visit could be helpful to them. He was adamant, however, that I should not encourage any Jew to return to Poland to live.
On my trip, I met with Walesa. Though I expressed my pleasure at meeting with him, I told him that I had no desire to do business in Poland. I told him that my family – including my mother, father, sister and grandparents – were murdered in Poland during the holocaust and that I thought that the Polish people continued to exhibit much anti-Semitism.
His response was surprising. I remember his words clearly. He gave me a very sincere look and said, "Your G‑d is my G‑d."
On my return to the United States, I gave a report on my trip to the Rebbe. The Rebbe then gave me a number of dollar bills and told me to give them to Jewish people who live in Poland. He also instructed me to give some of the dollars to non-Jews, who either help Jewish causes or who could be good to Jews in the future. He did not mention any names; and when I asked him how I would know to whom I should give the dollars, he simply said, "You will know."
I saw Walesa frequently, and on one of my trips to Poland, he told me of his decision to run for president. I then decided to give him one of the dollars. "Here is a dollar that you should hold on to," I said to him. "When you become president, I'll tell you who gave me this dollar to give to you. Do not ask me before then. When you become president, and I am sure you will become president, you will find out who gave you this dollar."
He took the dollar, folded it, and put it in his jacket pocket. I am told that until today, he carries that dollar with him wherever he goes.
Walesa won the election and became president. Sensing that the dollar had carried some blessing or luck with it, he asked me, "David, who was the person who gave me the dollar?" I told him that it was the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and I explained who the Rebbe was. I told him about my feelings and deep respect for the Rebbe: about his greatness, his dedication to people, his wonderful behavior, his perception and essence of kindness and goodness, how he looks at the world and is respectful to everyone. I also told him that the Rebbe had specifically instructed me to give the dollar to non-Jews who were inclined to help and befriend the Jewish people.
Walesa was very grateful and appreciative that I had given him the dollar, and expressed his respect towards the Rebbe.
My relationship with President Walesa continued. I began to do business in Poland and traveled there frequently. Two years after his election I encouraged him to go to Israel. I wanted him to establish Israel/Polish relations.
The Rebbe and David Chase (right). Photo: JEM
He later informed me that he and ten ministers would fly to Israel to meet with Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, and he asked me to accompany him.
I told him, "When you meet Shamir, don't try to placate him. Tell him the truth, tell him how you feel and explain to him how you feel about the Jewish people and what happened in Poland." He said, "Don't worry. I'll take care of what I have to do."
I did not know what he meant by that, nor what he intended to do.
During his meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister, Shamir asked Walesa about continued anti-Semitism in Poland. He mentioned the PLO office in Warsaw and Poland's arms dealings with Iraq, Iran and Syria, as indication of Poland's continued anti-Jewish, anti-Israel sentiments.
In response, Walesa turned to Shamir and said, "Mr. Prime Minister, for the Jewish blood that was spilled in Poland, I, on behalf on the Polish people, beg your forgiveness."
We were all shocked. This was a tremendous statement. Neither I, nor any of us ever expected such a full-hearted apology.
Shamir respectfully accepted his words but continued to challenge him about the PLO office in Warsaw and the arms dealings with Israel's enemies.
Walesa said, "When I get back to Poland, I will shut down the PLO office immediately and stop selling arms."
Personally, I thought that he had just committed political suicide. With 25% unemployment in Poland, reducing sales would cause the loss of even more jobs, and I thought that his political career would be finished.
But he did it. He immediately shut down the PLO office. I traveled back to Poland with him and witnessed it. Then he stopped selling arms to Syria, Iraq and Iran.
As part of the trip to Israel, President Walesa, others and I went to the Diaspora Museum. In one exhibit, there is a wall with the faces of about 40 prominent Jews, including the Rebbe. As we were looking at the picture, I said to Walesa, "This is a picture of the Rebbe, your rabbi."
He said to me, "That is my rabbi? The one who gave me the dollar?"
He then turned and faced the picture directly, looked intently at the Rebbe's face, folded his hands together and gently bowed from the waist towards the Rebbe's photo, with deep respect.
The curator of the museum who was accompanying us said, "My G‑d, what is he doing? Is the President of Poland bowing to the Rebbe?"
"Right," I said. "He's bowing and showing his respect to the Lubavitcher Rebbe."
I reported to the Rebbe what had occurred. The Rebbe was very pleased that Walesa was now increasing his efforts on behalf of the Jewish people.
I believe that the Rebbe's message, sent through me and the dollar, was so effective that it literally changed Walesa's whole attitude and feeling about the Jewish people and Israel. To close the PLO office, to see them as an enemy, and to stop sending arms to Iran, Iraq and Syria, are drastic measures, which were directly or indirectly caused by my message from the Rebbe.
Walesa knew the Rebbe had sent his blessing through the dollar. And from that time on I believe that his actions were consistent with the Rebbe's directive: "to give the dollar to a non-Jew who could help and befriend the Jewish people."