Amid Polish-Russian Row, Israeli FM Tells Putin: 'We Know the Historic Truth'

Katz, who is considered a persona non grata in Poland after accusing Poles of anti-Semitism, says Israelis 'know exactly who liberated' Jews ■ Polish president urges to stop distortion of Holocaust

Russian President Vladimir Putin is greeted by Israeli Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz, January 23, 2020.

Israel's Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz told Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday that concerning the “historical disagreement, we – as those who were liberated – know exactly who liberated [us]. We know the historical truth.”

Hijacking the Holocaust for Putin, politics and powerHaaretz Weekly Ep. 57

Katz was referring to the academic and diplomatic row between Poland and Russia concerning the use of the word “liberation” in the context of World War II. While pointing out that Soviet troops liberated the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in 1945, a historical fact, Putin is also claiming that the Soviet Union liberated Europe from Nazi rule, a claim that Poland refuses to accept.

>> Read more: World Holocaust Forum in Israel: Live updates ■ How Poland fell victim to Holocaust geopolitics | Analysis

For Warsaw, the USSR push into the west was not liberation but is rather seen as renewed occupation in which the Nazis were replaced with a Soviet administration, taking Polish lives in the process.

Katz’s decision to make these comments to Putin upon his arrival in Israel has great importance both politically and diplomatically.

Polish President Andrzej Duda has chosen to boycott the Fifth World Holocaust Forum being held this week at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial center in Jerusalem, mostly over the dispute with Putin and due to the fact that he was not invited to speak at the official ceremony.

The Poles were worried that Putin would take advantage of the stage provided to spread what they see as anti-Polish sentiment, and were insulted that Duda was not asked to speak while Putin was asked to give a speech.

Katz has been persona non grata in Poland for the last year after saying, in English and on television, that the Poles "suckle anti-Semitism with their mothers’ milk.” Poland is still waiting for an apology from Katz, and views the incident as disrespect for its national honor and the memory of the Poles who saved Jews during the Holocaust, at the risk of their own lives.

Polish president doubles down

The Polish president, meanwhile, has released a statement earlier Thursday titled "The truth that should not die," in which he attacked the former Soviet Union for its part in the outbreak of World War II. In his statement, Duda referred to the Ribbentrop-Molotov agreement, which had been signed by the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany a week before the war erupted and divided Poland into areas of influence. 

Polish President Andrzej Duda
Agencja Gazeta/Dawid Zuchowicz via Reuters

"We shouldn't forget that the last and determining step that led to World War II – the war without which the tragedy of the Holocaust would not have happened – was the secret agreement between Hitler and Stalin, signed August 23, 1939," he wrote. 

According to him, the agreement led to central and eastern European countries losing their independence and liberty. Duda also charged that the pact had "guaranteed a close cooperation between two totalitarian regimes, which lasted up to several hours before Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941." 

Duda concluded by writing: "The truth about the Holocaust shouldn't die. It should not be distorted or used for any goal."