The Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem recently removed a caption from a Holocaust-era photo that described Polish police presence in the photo, following an unusual complaint made by the Polish Foreign Ministry.
In the photo, Jews from Lodz Ghetto are seen next to a man wearing a Nazi uniform featuring a swastika. In the background, a warning sign in German reads: "Residential area for the Jews. Entry forbidden." The original photo caption read: "The entrance gate to the Lodz Ghetto. It was guarded by German soldiers and Polish police 24 hours a day." According to the Polish ministry, Polish police did not operate inside the Lodz ghetto.
The inscription now reads: "The entrance to the Lodz Ghetto. It was guarded around the clock by German police."
In response, the spokesperson for Yad Vashem told Haaretz that "This was a mistake, which was corrected when it was turned to our attention. We wanted to be precise. The ghetto was not guarded by Polish police. Our historians checked, and following their recommendation, we corrected it."
Andrzej Pawluszek, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki's secretary, who visited Yad Vashem on Monday together with Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Gowin, posted on his Twitter account that the text "was finally changed."
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Jan Dziedziczak, deputy director of the Polish Foreign Ministry, visited Yad Vashem in March and was upset when he saw that the photo caption mentioned Polish police. He said that, to his mind, the caption creates a false impression that the Poles were involved in the Holocaust.
“When I saw this inscription, I asked for immediate intervention from our diplomatic mission in Israel,” Dziedziczak said, according to reports in Polish media. “We will not leave this matter and we will do everything to change this information immediately.” He added that this would be the first of various "actions to restore the truth."
Dziedziczak was visiting Yad Vashem amid a controversy around the Polish Holocaust Law, which forbids all mention of the Polish people's involvement in Nazi crimes. The law was approved by the Polish parliament and currently awaits the approval of the constitutional court.
The unusual protest that the Yad Vashem museum received from the Polish government is part of a campaign, led by the Polish government and right-wing organizations over the past several months, well before the Holocaust law passed. The purpose of the law is to clear Poland of allegations that it was complicit in Nazi crimes during the Holocaust, a campaign that is being waged outside of Poland, even in Israel.
In February, Poland canceled a planned visit by Education Minister Naftali Bennett after he claimed, in a press release, that Poles had been involved in murdering Jews during the Holocaust.
In parallel, after the Holocaust Law passed, a Polish organization affiliated with the government created a movie, which was disseminated on YouTube and went viral, and ran ads on Israeli websites (including Haaretz), claiming that Poles and Jews both suffered from Nazi crimes, and that Poles helped the Jews in the Holocaust.
Polish embassies around the world demanded that local politicians and local media in Israel stop using the phrase "Polish" death camps, with those that refuse being shamed on social media. The national German television channel ZDF was even sued for its use of the phrase.
In 2016, Polish national television showed the Oscar-winning Polish movie "Ida" and added a caption expressing that, in contrast to what the movie says, many Polish people rescued Jews during the Holocaust.
That year, Poland also cut the ribbon on a special museum dedicated to Poles who saved Jews during the Holocaust, complete with a memorial wall devoted to righteous Gentile Poles. A similar wall was set up in a memorial site in the city of Toru, on the Vistula River in northern Poland.
Following the enactment of the new law, dozens of private lawsuits have been filed against institutions and persons by the Polish government for allegedly smearing the nation, by claiming it had been involved in Nazi crimes. Meanwhile, however, the law is being held under scrutiny by Poland's highest court, which has suspended ongoing Holocaust Law-related suits.
An article posted on Yad Vashem's Hebrew website says that around 16,000 Poles served in the Polish police during the German occupation of Poland, and that some were armed. The site elaborates that Polish police operated "on a large scale" against "the Jewish population," engaging in, among other roles, "policing the ghettos in search of Jews who escaped the ghettos or camps and who were seeking refuge in Polish population centers or in the woods."
The Yad Vashem Hebrew article further states that, "in fulfilling these roles, the Polish police was extremely loyal to the Nazi authorities, although there were several cases in which Polish officers assisted Jews."