Opinion |

Why Is This Israeli Jewish Scholar a Willing Poster Boy for Poland's Brutal Distortion of the Holocaust?

Four of Poland's most prominent historians query Daniel Blatman's wild attack on Yad Vashem and accepting the Polish government's invitation to head the Warsaw Ghetto Museum - a pernicious project seeking to whitewash WWII history

Jan Grabowski
Barbara Engelking, Agnieszka Haska, Jacek Leociak
Daniel Blatman, the newly appointed chief historian of the 'Warsaw Ghetto Museum', speaks during a press conference in Warsaw, Poland. Dec. 14, 2018
Daniel Blatman, the newly appointed chief historian of the 'Warsaw Ghetto Museum', speaks during a press conference in Warsaw, Poland. Dec. 14, 2018Credit: Alik Keplicz,AP
Jan Grabowski
Barbara Engelking, Agnieszka Haska, Jacek Leociak

It is with disbelief, and even sorrow, that we read the angry article in Haaretz by Dr. Daniel Blatman, a professor of history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. According to Blatman, to quote the headline of his article, Israel's "Yad Vashem Teaches the Holocaust Like Totalitarian Countries Teach History."

As historians living and working in Poland, a country which is rapidly drifting toward authoritarianism, we cannot be silent. We all have worked with Yad Vashem for many years and have never seen anything to substantiate Blatman's wild assertions.

>> With Nationalists in Power, Can Jews Ever Feel at Home in Poland?

Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto, wearing white armlets bearing the Star of David, board a tram marked with the words ‘For Jews Only,’ Feb. 17, 1941.Credit: AP

Blatman focuses his anger on Dr Hava Dreifuss, a highly-respected scholar who devoted her entire professional life to the study - sine ira et studio - to the destruction of the Jews of Poland during the Shoah.

How Blatman can link Dr. Dreifuss, her scholarship, Yad Vashem’s open-door policy to foreign dignitaries (however unpleasant they might be) and Dr. Blatman’s own decision to accept a job from the nationalistic Polish government, is hard for us to comprehend.

Blatman, who accepted the position of chief historian at the new Museum of the Warsaw Ghetto, did a very poor job in explaining just what compelled him to lend his name to an endeavor conceived and initiated by the nationalistic Polish authorities - authorities which are at the forefront of brutal attacks to distort the history of WWII in general, and the history of the Holocaust in particular.

To those ends, the new and impressive Museum of WWII in Gdask is being redesigned to better reflect the "patriotic" credo of the nationalists now in power, and to emphasize Polish valor, both real and imagined.

The Polish government's pursuit of its shameful history policy has also found expression in the firings of teachers and historians from state-run institutions (including several of our colleagues and friends), and relentless pressure to revamp school curricula to reflect that narrative.

Far right nationalists march on Poland's National Independence Day in Warsaw, Poland. Their banner reads 'Deus Vult', a Christian ultranationalist slogan. Nov. 11, 2017.Credit: Czarek Sokolowski,AP

There are situations when pleading naivete and intellectual innocence is just not good enough. How could a well-known and well respected historian pretend not to know that his Polish peers (including we, the signatories to this op-ed) serially rejected the offers of collaboration with the new museum?

For us, there was no need to even engage in any debate on the subject – it was simply a question of doing what was right. It was, after all, about a museum whose mandate – to quote Poland's Minister of Culture Piotr Glinski – is to be a museum of "Polish-Jewish love."

Indeed, it takes real chutzpah for Blatman to remind us, Polish historians, that the Holocaust was also a part of Polish history! This, after all, has been – and still is – at the core, of our research over the last quarter century,and something in which we believe very deeply.

It is very sad to see a scholar like Blatman become the poster boy of state authorities bent on turning back the clock and distorting the history of the Holocaust.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki presents the Joint Declaration of Prime Ministers of the State of Israel and the Republic of Poland. Warsaw, Poland, June 27, 2018Credit: Alik Keplicz / אי־פי

It is not, after all, Blatman’s undeniable familiarity with the history of the Warsaw Ghetto that was at the origin of his appointment. It was simply the fact that no Polish historian with any real qualifications and any credentials in the field would agree to become a figurehead for this pernicious project which seeks to whitewash history.

Blatman argues that no pressure has been brought upon him to conform to the Polish nationalistic narrative. Of course not. For the time being the authorities are very happy to have a known scholar (and a Jew, for good measure!) to serve as a fig leaf for their operation.

His apppointment legitimizes the whole endeavour and serves as a useful tool to break the resistance of both underpaid and reluctant Polish historians, who – until now – refused on principle to join this nationalistic project.

Professor Barbara Engelking, IFiS, Polish Academy of Sciences

Professor Jan Grabowski, History, University of Ottawa

Dr. Agnieszka Haska, IFiS, Polish Academy of Sciences

Professor Jacek Leociak, IBL, Polish Academy of Sciences

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