Opinion

Watch Out for Politically Motivated Attempts to Rewrite Holocaust History, in Poland and Jerusalem

When you go to the Yad Vashem Museum you might be surprised to see a politically motivated attempt to rewrite history of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising

An original yellow star at the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, ahead of Holocaust Remembrance Day, April 10, 2018.
\ RONEN ZVULUN/ REUTERS

The Polish Holocaust Law has aroused outrage because of its refusal to recognize the part Poles played as accessories to the Holocaust. It is true that Poland fought the Germans on the battlefield and as an underground army in German occupied Poland, and yet many Poles assisted the Germans in their persecution of the Jews.

Motivated by political considerations, the law not only denies this fact, but makes such revelations unlawful. The part played by many of the people of Europe in the destruction of Europe’s Jews is by now well known.

Denials of such acts of complicity are blatant attempts to fabricate Holocaust history. Hopefully the ongoing contacts between the governments of Poland and Israel will bring about a change in the present formulation of the law. But there is a lesson to be learned: Watch out for politically motivated attempts to rewrite history.

When you go to the Yad Vashem Museum in Jerusalem you might be surprised to see a politically motivated attempt to rewrite history. The display devoted to the Warsaw Ghetto uprising presents Mordechai Anielewicz as commander of the uprising, and although not ignoring Pawel Frenkel and the fighters of the Jewish Military Union commanded by him, it assigns them no more than a secondary role in the uprising. The fact is that the central battle of the uprising in the ghetto was fought by Pawel Frenkel’s fighters (also known by the group’s Polish acronym the ZZW) at Muranowski Square. There, after raising the Zionist and Polish flag over one of the large buildings along the square, they battled Jurgen Stroop’s SS troops for four days.

The evidence confirming the central role of Frenkel and his fighters in the uprising has been available for over 72 years. It was presented by the American prosecution in the Nuremberg Trials at the end of 1945, when quotes from one of Stroop’s daily communiqués describing the fighting at Muranowski Square were read before the court. It was widely reported in the international press including the Hebrew press in Palestine at the time, but has been studiously ignored for many years.

Many quotes from his communiqués appear in my book “Flags over the Warsaw Ghetto,” first published in Hebrew in 2009.

Instead, the historical evidence was altered, by politicians and historians alike, to present Anielewicz as the commander of the uprising, while assigning to Frenkel and his fighters at most a secondary role. This fabrication of an important event in the history of the Holocaust was clearly motivated by political and ideological considerations: Anielewicz’s group had a socialist outlook, while Frenkel’s group was more Zionist Revisionist. Unfortunately, this distortion of the historical record persists to this day at Yad Vashem.

An example of the attitude of some of Israel’s Holocaust historians to the narrative of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising is Prof. Daniel Blatman’s review of my book published in Haaretz over eight years ago. He writes that everything is already known about the Warsaw Ghetto uprising; therefore, there is no need for additional research.

He also claims “that the Stroop communiqués have been examined and evaluated with great care by a number of historians who researched the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and its suppression.” Seemingly, there is nothing more to be learned from them.

Numerous attempts to convince the management of Yad Vashem to revise the display in the museum so as to correctly represent the central role of the Jewish Military Union in the uprising have so far produced no results. Yad Vashem stubbornly clings to its version of the narrative of the uprising.

It does not come as a surprise that the displays devoted to the Warsaw Ghetto uprising at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and at the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw have followed in the footsteps of Yad Vashem, possibly as a result of advice provided by Yad Vashem.

At the museum in Warsaw Stroop’s battle communiqués in German are actually available for perusal and if the visitor knows German and is so inclined he can leaf through them and learn of the true course of events during the uprising. Attempts to convince the management of these museums to correct their presentation of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising have so far fallen on deaf ears.