Dr.Gerstenfeld’s article on Poland was first published in Algemeiner, and republished here with the author’s consent…
CALIBRATION IS KEY TO ISRAEL’s ATTITUDE TO POLAND
“Calibration” is most desirable in diplomacy. For Israel’s desired attitude toward Poland it is the absolute key word. Both countries have an interest in good diplomatic relations. Israel has a second interest however: to avoid an attitude that enables Poland and Poles to whitewash or distort horrible elements in the country’s history toward Jews.
As long as Israel’s representatives calibrate their statements and stick to the truth they will have the moral high ground in the relationship. Lack of sophistication, professionalism and calibration can easily destroy this. Israel Katz demonstrated that shortly after he became acting Israeli foreign minister. Quoting former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, he said , that Poles suckle antisemitism with their mother’s milk.1
That statement was already eminently false when Shamir said it. No one is born an antisemite or suckles antisemitism with their mother’s milk. Katz greatly damaged what could have been an important Israeli diplomatic success – an official meeting of the four Visegrad countries (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia) in Israel.2 Prime Minister Netanyahu has worked patiently on improving relations with these countries.
Katz’s words even drew a condemnation of the pro-Israeli U.S. secretary of state Mike Pompeo.3 The Israeli foreign minister would have served his country’s interests well if he had fully apologized for his untrue statement.4
It is, however, illusion to think that such an apology would have ended Israel’s problems with Poland. The awkward issues between Poland and Israel keep returning because it seems impossible for many Poles to admit that during the Second World War not all of their ancestors were victims of the Germans. A substantial number of Poles murdered Jews or deleviered them to the Nazis. .
Since the beginning of this century, there have been important disclosures about massive crimes committed by Poles against Jews during the Holocaust. Jan Gross revealed the murder of almost all the local Jews in the village of Jedwabne by their Polish neighbors.5 A much wider perspective on extreme antisemitic crimes by Poles was provided by Jan Grabowski. The research by his team found found that approximately 200,000 Jews were murdered by Poles during the Holocaust.6 Grabowski who teaches at the University of Ottawa has filed a lawsuit against the Polish League against Defamation in the Warsaw District Court. He claims that 134 people who signed the league’s statement against his research have defamed him.7
Another Israeli who apparently does not seem to know what calibration means is the controversial historian Daniel Blatman. He has accepted the Polish Government’s offer to head the problematic Holocaust museum which is scheduled to open in Warsaw in 2023. Blatman has wildly attacked Yad Vashem in an article titled, Yad Vashem teaches the Holocaust like totalitarian countries teach history.8 What will be represented in the museum and how that is done is likely to lead to substantial future disagreements.
In a 2016 interview Polish minister of Education, Anna Zalewska, refused to acknowledge the fact that Polish citizens were responsible for killing their Jewish neighbors in Jedwabne. She also refused to admit the responsibility of the Poles who murdered their Jewish neighbors in Kielce in 1946.9
The number of problematic aspects concerning contemporary Poland is huge. A study by the University of Bielefeld published in 2011 found that 63% of Poles agree with the antisemitic assertion that Israel is carrying out a war of extermination against the Palestinians. These figures were also high in the six other EU countries where the study took place. Yet in no other country the percentage was higher than 50%.10
The strong desire of many Poles to distort their country’s past leads to the need for Israel to anticipate future problems. A current example, is the discussion in Germany about establishing a monument in Berlin dedicated to the three million Poles murdered during the German occupation.11 German atrocities should be remembered, even more so now in view of the contemporary developments in Germany. As Jews we should be sensitive toward extreme atrocities committed against others, the more so if committed by the nation which exterminated Jews at the same this happened. At the same time we have to make sure that it will tell history truthfully.
Seemingly this monument issue has nothing to do with Jews, yet we have been forewarned. In 1979 the “Polish” Pope John Paul II visited Auschwitz. He said there: “Six million Poles lost their lives during the Second World War, a fifth of the nation.”12 One should not let this semantic amalgamation pass. Three million Poles were murdered by the Germans in racist murders, ten percent of the Polish people. The Germans saw the Poles as inferior people. Three million Polish Jews were murdered in exterminatory antisemitism, more than 90% of the Polish Jews. The Germans considered the Jews to be sub-human, bacteria and vermin.
If the monument for Polish victims in Berlin materializes, Jews and Israel have to beware that no distorted texts appear on it.