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To Remember, and Not to Sell

Haaretz Editorial
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Some of the world leaders who arrived for the World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem, January 22, 2019.
Some of the world leaders who arrived for the World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem, January 22, 2019.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Haaretz Editorial

If the reports are true that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intends on expressing support for the campaign that Russian President Vladimir Putin is conducting against Poland over the past few months, then it is a bad joke at the expense of the victims of the Holocaust, and its survivors, in whose name world leaders are gathering on Thursday at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial center in Jerusalem.

At the center of Putin’s campaign is the accusation that Poland caused the outbreak of World War II, while minimizing the large role played by the Soviet Union.

Hijacking the Holocaust for Putin, politics and power

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In 1939, the Soviet Union abandoned the Jews of Poland, and the rest of Europe, when it signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, a non-aggression pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, which included dividing up Poland between them – which is in practice what led to the outbreak of World War II. A week after the pact was signed, Germany invaded Poland on its way to implementing the Final Solution and the extermination of the Jewish People. Is it possible that now, over 80 years later, Israel is ready to forget the part of the Soviet Union in starting the war? Just because of momentary interests and considerations, which do not fit the historical truth?

Putin is coming to Yad Vashem as the head of a nation that defeated Hitler’s murderous regime and liberated the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp the Germans built in Poland – but we must also not forget the less heroic chapters that preceded the victory over the Nazis. These include, alongside the pact with Nazi Germany in 1939, the massacre the Soviets perpetrated against tens of thousands of innocent Poles in the Katyn Forest in 1940, a massacre they tried to cover up for decades. Polish President Andrzej Duda – who stayed away from the ceremony at Yad Vashem because he was not given a chance to speak there – is justified in his fears that Putin will exploit the stage he is given in Israel to give root to his deceptive narrative, and blur and distort parts of history that are inconvenient for him.

Two years ago, Poland dragged Netanyahu into a frontal confrontation with Yad Vashem’s senior historians. This came after Netanyahu signed a controversial joint statement with his Polish counterpart, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, according to which “many Poles” saved Jews during the Holocaust, while those who collaborated with the Nazis were individuals, and did not do so as part of the Polish people. Netanyahu distorted history to put an end to a crisis between the two countries that broke out over the Polish “Holocaust Law,” which threatened to limit freedom of expression concerning the role of Poles in the Nazi’s crimes.

The need to strengthen Israel’s ties with Russia or the desire to free Naama Issachar must not be allowed to lead to Netanyahu to sign – with his hands or with his words – another anti-historical declaration. History in general, and all the more so Jewish history, is not Netanyahu’s personal property and is not for sale.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.