Opinion |

Israel's Stupid, Ignorant and Amoral Betrayal of the Truth on Polish Involvement in the Holocaust

We accepted the mendacious official Polish narrative, and swallowed it. And we legitimized the government's campaign to harass, fine and impoverish Polish liberals, academics, journalists and simply honest people who expose Poles' involvement in the crimes of the Holocaust

Yehuda Bauer
Yehuda Bauer
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The former Auschwitz camp is pictured through a fence on January 27, 2014.
The former Auschwitz camp is pictured through a fence on January 27, 2014.Credit: REUTERS
Yehuda Bauer
Yehuda Bauer

The Polish and Israeli governments have reached an agreement on an amendment to the Polish law that states that claiming that Poland as a country, or the Polish people, were responsible for crimes committed by the Nazis is a criminal offense punishable by up to three years in prison. According to the agreement, this criminal aspect was removed.

The Polish government passed the law to begin with to defend its good name against accusations that many Poles took part in the murder of Jews during the Holocaust. And who will decide on the historical facts? According to the Poles, it will be the Institute of National Remembrance, which is run by the politicians controlling the country today.

And so according to the law – even after the agreement with Israel – the government will determine what happened in the past via historians in its service, and this narrative cannot be critiqued by historians, independent researchers or others. Is this acceptable to the Israeli government?

>> With Nationalists in Power, Can Jews Ever Feel at Home in Poland? | Opinion ■ The Polish were once victims of historical whitewashing. Now they are doing the same | Analysis >>

The joint announcement by Israel and Poland also states that many segments of Polish society helped Jews. This position diminishes the heroism of Poland’s Righteous Among the Nations because the noble-spirited Polish rescuers had to hide not only from the Germans, but also, and perhaps mainly, from their Polish neighbors.

Yad Vashem has recognized some 6,750 Polish Righteous Among the Nations. They are a small and courageous minority. Unfortunately, the social norm that was accepted in occupied Poland was completely different: The usual conduct was not to help Jews, but to harm them, and many Poles were involved in the persecution of Jews. Europeans’ cooperation with the Nazi death machine was widespread, of course, not only in Poland. But in other countries, scholars who uncover this can’t be penalized.

As for the abrogation of the criminal aspect of the law, let’s not forget that this also means eliminating the exception of historians and literary figures whose profession is to write about this subject. From now on they too, and of course also journalists, educators, politicians and others, can be sued for revealing historical truths. Eliminating the criminal aspect lifts the threat of imprisonment and fines in criminal proceedings, but not punishment in civil proceedings.

In fact, the revamped law encourages civil suits against Poles who claim that a good many Poles were involved in persecuting Jews. Naturally, this claim is correct. There were Poles who gave Jews up to the Polish police, who in turn gave them to the Germans. There were those who turned Jews in directly to the Germans, and there were those who murdered Jews themselves.

The clauses of the law that still stand can, apparently, be imposed via civil proceedings against anyone claiming that the main motives for persecuting Jews were the anti-Semitism of a good many Poles and the greed of Poles who on a huge scale throughout Poland stole the possessions of those who were deported and murdered.

The Law and Justice party now rules Poland, with a decisive majority in parliament. In fact, the government is in the hands of the party chairman, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who in this is imitating Stalin, who controlled the Soviet Union from his position as head of the Bolshevik party. Kaczynski and his party are of course anti-Communist, so their rule can be defined as Bolshevik anti-Communism.

>> Opinion: Neither Poland nor Israel can afford their fixation with the past >>

Kaczynski announced a few days ago that preparations are already being made in civil courts to sue offenders. These people could be required to pay high fines.

Polish liberals, academics, journalists and simply honest people who want to expose the acts of harassment by Poles against Jews during the Holocaust could risk impoverishment and loss of livelihood. It may be assumed that their research funding will be reduced or eliminated, and honest people will be removed from their jobs. Poland will quickly become an illiberal democracy, the term favored by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who supports this nationalist-populist revolt and will receive a royal welcome by the Israeli government on his upcoming visit here.

The declaration by Warsaw and Jerusalem legitimizes this betrayal by the Israeli government of the historical truth, the memory of the Holocaust and the marvelous people in Poland who investigated the facts on which we base our criticism. And for what did the Israeli government sacrifice truth and justice? For its current economic, security and political interests, which are more important than some Holocaust that happened 70 or 80 years ago.

We accepted the mendacious official Polish narrative, and swallowed it. If we come now to the Americans or the Europeans with complaints against what this generates in Poland, they’ll answer us, and rightfully, that the Israeli government accepted the Polish facts. I don’t know what was going on here – ignorance, stupidity or the clear amoral victory of transient interests that will remain with us as an eternal disgrace. And perhaps it was simply betrayal.

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