The law passed by the Polish parliament, which calls for punishment of anyone blaming the Polish people for Nazi crimes, has stirred a debate about Poland’s role during the Holocaust. The debate is colored by the memory of the rampant anti-Semitism that existed in Poland before World War II, the widespread anti-Semitism that continued in Poland throughout the war, and the continuation of anti-Semitic outbreaks after the war when it was discovered that not all of Poland’s Jews had been exterminated during the Holocaust.
Yet it is important to differentiate between the behavior of individual Poles or groups of Poles and the actions of the Polish government-in-exile in London and the Home Army (AK) during the war.
The Polish government, which governed until the defeat of the Polish Army, and the government-in-exile which operated from London thereafter, not only did not collaborate with the Germans, but were engaged in fighting them until the end of the war.
The Home Army, under orders from the Polish government, was in contact with ZOB, a Jewish underground organization led by Mordechai Anielewicz in the Warsaw Ghetto and provided it with a limited quantity of pistols. A member of another Polish underground group delivered weapons and instructed ZZW fighters, the other Jewish underground organization in the ghetto, led by Pawel Frenkiel.
The Polish socialist underground and the People’s Army (AL) undertook a local action in support of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. As a matter of fact, Poles were the only ones to provide any assistance at all to the Warsaw Ghetto fighters. The Allied Powers, the U.S., Britain, and the Soviet Union, just ignored the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.
The German government, fully supported by the German people, perpetrated the Holocaust. In exterminating Europe’s Jews, Germany was aided by the Romanian government. When in June, 1941 the Romanian army joined Germany in attacking the Soviet Union, the Romanian government ordered its army to wreak destruction on the Jewish population in the areas it occupied, including Odessa. It is estimated that the Romanians were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Jews.
After the defeat of the French army, France’s government collaborated with the Germans by sending their Jews to the death camps. So did the puppet Slovakian government and the Hungarian one.
Organized groups of people living in some of the areas that came under German control, actively and enthusiastically participated in the extermination of entire local Jewish communities. These were the Lithuanians, Latvians, and Ukrainians. Lithuanian and Latvian units under orders from the Germans in the Warsaw Ghetto forced Jews from their homes and herded them to the railroad sidings for transportation to Treblinka, during the months of the great deportations in the summer and fall of 1942. They were assisted by the “Jewish Police” under orders from the Germans.
Individual Poles reported Jews who tried to pass as Poles to the Germans, and surviving outside the walls of the ghetto was very hazardous because of such informants. In the Warsaw Ghetto, a Polish police (the “blue police”) under German orders also assisted in keeping order and bringing Jews to the railroad cars that took them to Treblinka. But the Polish government and the Polish underground armies did not collaborate with the Germans during the war. They fought the Germans.
That is the difference between Poland and the nations of Europe that came under German occupation. That may be the reason for the sensitivity of the present Polish government when it hears Poland accused of complicity in the Holocaust. These accusations are not justified. However, the law passed in the Polish parliament, making it illegal to cast any blame on Poles for the crimes committed during the Holocaust, is too far reaching and endangers free discussion and research about what happened on Polish soil during the Holocaust. It needs to be revised.