Zuroff: Germany accepted Poles' narrative of diminished Holocaust role

Polish WWII narrative diminishing their role in Holocaust; German president apologizes for crimes against Poland, barely mentions Jews.

September 2, 2019 22:06
3 minute read.
Zuroff: Germany accepted Poles' narrative of diminished Holocaust role

Simon Wiesenthal Center Director Efraim Zuroff attends a protest against the annual procession commemorating the Latvian Waffen-SS (Schutzstaffel) unit, also known as the Legionnaires, in Riga March 16, 2014. (REUTERS/Ints Kalnins). (photo credit: REUTERS/INTS KALNINS)

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier swallowed the propaganda line of the Polish nationalist government “hook, line and sinker” by apologizing to them for crimes against Poland during World War II while barely mentioning the Holocaust which targeted the Jews, the head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Jerusalem office Efraim Zuroff said on Monday.

Steinmeier was one of some 40 world leaders who took part in commemoration ceremonies in Poland on Sunday marking 80 years since the Nazi invasion of the country and the beginning of World War II.

Steinmeier apologized to the Poles for the crimes inflicted upon them by the Nazis in two speeches – one at the central ceremony in Warsaw, and another at Wielun, a town that the German Luftwaffe bombed on September 1, 1939, killing thousands and sowing terror, marking the first attacks against Poland.

The German president made no mention in Warsaw of the Holocaust or that of the six million Poles killed in the war three million were Jews, but in the second speech at Wielun, he said that the terrorist acts in the city “were followed by destruction, humiliation, persecution and torture, and by the murder of millions of Polish citizens and of Polish and European Jews. What German could look at Wielun, at Warsaw or Palmiry, or at Auschwitz and other places where the Shoah took place, without feeling shame? It was Germans who committed crimes against humanity in Poland.”

Zuroff said that this is exactly the narrative that is being pushed by the current Polish government, highlighting that Poland and its people were victimized by the Nazis, and downplaying the role of Polish collaborators in the murder of the country’s Jews.

According to Zuroff, Steinmeier’s words are a “complete whitewash of the fate of the Jews – our fate was swallowed up within the fate of the Poles.” But, he said, this was not historically accurate. The Poles did suffer horribly at the hands of the Nazis, but the Nazis did not aim to kill every Pole; they did aim to kill every single Jew.

Zuroff said that there was nothing wrong with Steinmeier apologizing to the Poles, but that the Polish government is “putting all the emphasis on their suffering, hiding their own crimes and preventing the restitution of Jewish property.”

This, he said, is “all part of a policy that in a sense tries to elevate their own suffering, and totally ignores the complicity of their own people in the suffering of their Jewish neighbors.”

Zuroff said that this was “payback” for Israel signing an agreement with Poland in June 2018, which put an end to a crisis over proposed Polish legislation that would have made it a crime to speak of Polish complicity in the Holocaust. Several historians said that the legislation whitewashed the role of Polish collaborators in the murder of Jews.

“This is what we deserve after signing that shameful agreement,” Zuroff said, adding that this was the first “major” consequence of the signing, “but believe me there will be more to come.”

Zuroff asserted that with Holocaust distortion rampant throughout Eastern Europe, what happened in Poland on Sunday is “a sign of the times, and this kind of language and approach will lead to worse things, such as the attempt to subsume the Holocaust to all the suffering during the war. This is what we are afraid of.”

According to Zuroff, those who distort the Holocaust want to see one memorial day for all the victims of totalitarian regimes, rather than a special day for the Holocaust. “This is a bad sign,” he said, adding that Israel needs to “wake up and put its foot down” to prevent this type of universalization of the Holocaust.

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