Dr.Gerstenfeld’s article on the reactions to the Polish Holocaust law was first published in the Algemeiner, a longer version is published here with the author’s consent…
Reactions to the Polish Holocaust Law: A Case Study of the Exposure of Revisionism
The Polish Holocaust law has elicited international reactions which by now have become more interesting than the law itself. The resulting publicity has once again brought the massive participation of Poles in the Holocaust as well as the country’s major pre- and post-war antisemitism into the limelight.
Many details reemerge in the media. The historian Jan Gross is widely quoted. He documented in his book, Neighbors, how the Jews of Jedwabne were burned to death in a barn by Polish residents of the town.1 The work of the historian Jan Grabowski also receives much more attention than in the past. He and his researchers have detailed the fact that Poles massacred 200,000 Jews during the Holocaust. They confirmed this figure which was already established by Polish Jewish historian Szymon Datner about fifty years ago.2
The Simon Wiesenthal Center has published for the first time a declassified State Department document from 1946 which compared Polish treatment of Jews to that of German Nazis. It stated that after the war many Jews preferred to flee even to Germany rather than to return to Poland.3
Best known among Polish antisemitic crimes in the immediate post-war years is the 1946 pogrom in the town of Kielce where 37 Jews were murdered. Last year the 71st anniversary of that pogrom was marked locally with an interfaith prayer service.4 The next anniversary in July of this year may receive more media attention.
This month marks fifty years ago that 13,000 people of Jewish origin were stripped of their Polish citizenship and expelled from the country. On the occasion of the anniversary, Polish President, Andrzej Duda, offered a complex apology. The Washington Post titled the article devoted to it: “Poland’s president offers a nonapology apology for ’68 antisemitic purge.”5
The law also motivated me to republish quotes of an interview I conducted more than fifteen years ago with the then Head of the International Institute for Holocaust Research at Yad Vashem, the late David Bankier. He said that “Most Polish underground organisations believed that post-Hitler Poland would be a country without Jews…. those who remained would have to leave Poland after the war. This view was expressed even in the Zegota organization, the council for aid to the Jews set up by the Polish resistance. Among them were people who endangered their own lives.” Bankier remarked that the belief that Poland was not a country where Jews should live was highly indicative of true Polish feelings at that time.6
A 2011 study by the University of Bielefeld found that 63% of Poles agree with the statement that: “what the State of Israel does today to the Palestinians is in principle no different from what the Nazis did to the Jews in the Third Reich.”7 This percentage was substantially higher than in the other European countries where this poll was undertaken.
Poland’s acceptance of the Holocaust law has led to tensions with Israel. It has also caused a great deal of anguish to Polish Jews. Twenty three Jewish groups have signed a letter saying that they do not feel safe in Poland.8
Shortly after the law took effect, the Polish League against Defamation filed a complaint against the Argentinian Daily Page 12. It claimed that the paper manipulated an article on the 1941 Jedwabne pogrom by putting on top of it a photograph of Polish soldiers who fought against communists after the war. The Polish state that the Argentinians “intended to harm the Polish nation and the good reputation of Polish soldiers.”9 This one action already ensures that the manipulation of the Polish role during the Holocaust will continue to draw international attention. That is the opposite of what the Polish government wanted to achieve.
Since then, a Polish diplomat has taken on a much tougher target. Jan Dziedziczak, the deputy director of the Polish Foreign Ministry, complained about a text at the Yad Vashem museum. It says that most of the Polish police officers after 1939, returned to duty under the German occupiers. It also says that in 1943 16,000 Polish police officers, some armed, served under the Germans.
Yad Vashem states about the Polish police that it was employed “on a wide scale against the Jewish population,”and “had an active role in policing ghettos in occupied Poland and searching for Jews who sought refuge with the local population after escaping from ghettos and camps.”
The Polish police demonstrated “absolute devotion” to the Nazi authorities, according to Yad Vashem, “although a handful of cases of assistance to Jews by some officers also occurred.”10
Attacking Yad Vashem is a risky approach for the Polish Government. The criminality of Poles against the Jews during the Holocaust was huge. The Israeli museum can probably supply far more documents about Polish antisemitic delinquency at that time than are currently in the public eye.
My research shows that in the last year there has been worldwide a substantial increase in the abuse and distortion of facts about the Holocaust. The Holocaust law and the international reactions to it can serve as a prime case study about revisionism and how exposing defeats the aims of the perpetrators.