Most Israelis Recognize Polish Suffering Under Nazi Rule, Poll Finds

Survey commissioned by Polish embassy finds that majority of Israelis think Poland hasn't accepted full responsibility for its part in the Holocaust

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Children in the Warsaw Ghetto during the Holocaust.
Children in the Warsaw Ghetto during the Holocaust.Credit: Jewish National Fund
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

Most Israelis believe that the Polish people – and not just Jews – were victims of the Nazis during the Holocaust, a poll commissioned by the Polish embassy has found.

At the same time, the survey shows that a majority of Israelis think Poland has not yet accepted full responsibility for the actions of its citizens during that time.

The poll, published on Thursday, was conducted amid controversy over a Polish law that made it illegal to claim the Polish nation had played a role in the Holocaust, and led to tensions between the two countries.

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Seventy-two percent of respondents said they agreed with the following statement: “During the Holocaust, Poles were also victims of Nazi oppression even though their suffering cannot be compared to the tragedy of the Jewish nation.” Twenty-five percent disagreed with that statement.

The high rate of Israelis who recognize Polish suffering during the Holocaust is considered surprising since Israelis have traditionally focused solely on Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

The survey, conducted in December by Keevoon Global Research among 1,027 Hebrew-, Arabic- and Russian-speaking Israelis, also found that 76 percent believe Poland has not yet taken full responsibility for the part played by its citizens in World War II. One quarter of all respondents had no problem with the manner in which Poland contends with the role of Poles during the Holocaust.

With that, 65 percent of all respondents said they would like Israeli-Polish relations to focus on the present and future, including commercial ties, with only 23 percent wishing to base relations on the past, including common heritage and the Holocaust.

Israeli-Polish relations ran aground last year after Poland passed the so-called Holocaust law and following some controversial statements by senior Polish officials regarding Poland’s World War II history. This included a claim by Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who compared Poles and Jews who collaborated with the Nazis.

The survey showed that 49 percent of Israelis have a negative view of Poland, mainly due to issues such as the Holocaust, anti-Semitism and the Holocaust law, and 42 percent have a positive image of it, due to Poland’s support for Israel in the international arena, as well as tourism, food and shopping.

However, after pollsters presented respondents with positive information about Poland and its attitude toward Israel, 76 percent said they have a positive image of it, and only 19 percent held on to their negative view of the country.

Poland’s ambassador to Israel Marek Magierowski told a press conference to mark the publication of the results that good relations between the two countries are important to both Poland and Israel, and that the survey’s objective was to find out what Poland could change in its policy toward Israel in order to improve its image.

He said many Israelis are unaware of contemporary Poland, basing their attitude toward it only on historical notions. Magierowski claimed that there is no activity of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement in Poland and there are no significant politicians or parties that espouse anti-Semitic views. Along with that, Poland is one of the safest countries for Jews in Europe today, he added.

Magierowski added that he was frustrated that Israelis are not exposed to positive, contemporary aspects of Polish culture and society. "We’d like you to get to know the modern Poland, including Polish cuisine and jazz. When Israelis return from a first-time visit to Poland, they say that they had expected to see a sad country, a post-Communist one, but had discovered a Western country,” he said. “Between the two extremes – a visit to Auschwitz and a visit to a Warsaw shopping mall – there are a lot of grey areas Israelis don’t know.”

The ambassador further claimed that many governments are struggling the lack of knowledge about the Holocaust, including by Polish and Israeli citizens. He particularly criticized the widespread usage of the word Nazi, which he claims blurs of the fact that the Nazis were Germans. “Paradoxically, the word Germany is absent from public discourse,” he said.

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