In the wake of the sudden death of former Polish foreign minister Bronislaw Geremek, the country’s Jewish community remembered the fierce anti-Communist politician as not only a good friend and neighbor, but a strong supporter of religious freedom throughout Eastern Europe.

Geremek was 76.

“We are all deeply saddened by this tragedy,” said Rabbi Shalom DovBer Stambler, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Poland. “Our prayers go out to his family and loved ones.”

A descendent of a rabbinical family whose father perished in Auschwitz during the Holocaust, Geremek lived in the same Warsaw building housing Chabad-Lubavitch of Poland. He died in a car crash near the western town of Lubien.

Two weeks ago, he was slated to meet with former Israeli Chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, another Polish-born Holocaust survivor. Lau was in town for the graduation of students at the Chabad-Lubavitch yeshiva in Warsaw – Poland’s first ordination ceremony since World War II – but, at the last minute, Geremek had to travel to another part of the country.

A historian by training, Geremek was on the staff of the Institute of History of the Polish Academy of Sciences for 30 years. During the 1980s, he served as an advisor to the then-illegal Solidarity trade unionist movement led by Lech Walesa, getting arrested by the pro-Soviet Polish authorities in 1983. Following Walesa’s ascent to power after the collapse of Communism, Geremek remained in politics as a member of the lower house of the Polish parliament. He served as the country’s foreign minister from 1997 to 2000, and was elected to the European Parliament in 2004.

With an office in Brussels, Geremek fostered good relations with Chabad-Lubavitch rabbis there.

“Mr. Geremek was a true patriot of the Polish Republic,” said Stambler. “He was a real intellectual and force for social change whom we all admired.”