Polish Jewish leaders weigh in on FBI Holocaust spat

Responses from Jewish community come after Poland summoned the US envoy in Warsaw over article written by FBI director James Comey which touched on Poland's alleged responsibility for the Holocaust.

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April 20, 2015 19:20
2 minute read.
Auschwitz

Survivors of the former Nazi German concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz arrive to the former camp in Oswiecim.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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Leaders of the Polish Jewish community weighed in on the side of their government on Monday in a spat with the United States over Poland’s complicity in the Holocaust.

On Sunday, Poland summoned the United States’s ambassador in Warsaw, over an article written by FBI director James Comey, which touched on Poland’s alleged responsibility for the Holocaust during World War II.

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Writing in The Washington Post, the senior lawman explained the reasoning behind his decision to send all trainee FBI agents to visit the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Comey said in the article: “In their minds, the murderers and accomplices of Germany, and Poland, and Hungary, and so many other places didn’t do something evil.

They convinced themselves it was the right thing to do, the thing they had to do.”

Poland said the passage wrongly implied it was complicit in the Nazi genocide of European Jews and the country’s Jews seem to agree.

“The director clearly wanted to make an important moral statement,” said the country’s American-born Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich.

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“His intention was positive and good. However, even an unintended distortion of history is nonetheless a distortion of history and disrespectful to the Polish nation.

To lump Poland with Germany as the same is false and hurtful [and] his use of words was imprecise and [could be] easily misunderstood to be a distortion of historical facts.”

Piotr Kadlcik, the immediate past president of the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland, said that he doubted that Comey wished to offend Poles.

“From my perspective he was referring to the group of German collaborators active throughout the entirety of Europe,” he said. “I agree that choosing both Poles and Hungarians [being an active part of the Axis] was a wrong choice, but I do not think that it was done on purpose.

What saddened me was the national outcry that had an impact on the Anniversary of Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.”

Poles marked the Jewish uprising against the Nazis at a ceremony held Sunday afternoon in Warsaw at the monument to the ghetto heroes in front of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews. Polish authorities and visiting Israeli youth joined Warsaw residents at the commemoration.

The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising broke out on April 19, 1943, and lasted for a month.

It was the first military action of underground organizations against Germany and the first urban uprising in occupied Europe.

Severyn Ashkenazy, president of Beit Warszawa Foundation Jewish Progressive Community of Poland, was harsher than his orthodox counterparts, telling The Jerusalem Post that he “can only hope and pray that the FBI is better informed than its director.”

Comey wrote that he requires his agents to visit the Holocaust museum both because he wants them to “learn about abuse of authority on a breathtaking scale” but also because he wishes them to “confront something more painful and more dangerous… humanity and what we are capable of.”

Reuters and JTA contributed to this report.

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