Reflections from an evening with Poland’s prime minister

Aleksander Morawiecki has gone as far as to say that his government will not pay any compensation for property lost during World War II, since the Poles were the war’s major victims.

June 13, 2019 16:51
3 minute read.
Reflections from an evening with Poland’s prime minister

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. (photo credit: REUTERS/EVA PLEVIER)

With the current rise in antisemitic attacks across the world, including Europe – which has reemerged as a center of anti-Jewish sentiment only 74 years after the Holocaust – and the recent uptick in hate crimes in the US, with the attacks on the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh and at the Chabad of Poway, California, one must understand the dangers of forgetting the past and not learning from it.

In a study conducted in Poland – a country with a dark past of hatred against Jews and antisemitic attacks – about four out of 10 people said that Jews have too much influence in business and finance around the world.

Recently, the World Jewish Congress voiced outrage over a Polish town’s ritual beating of a Judas effigy that looks like a caricature of an ultra-Orthodox Jew. In the Pruchnik ritual – part of Roman Catholic Easter celebrations – children crowded around the effigy beating it with sticks, as adults dragged it through the streets.

Tensions between Poland and Israel have been growing. Only a few days ago, Poland canceled a visit by Israeli officials who intended to raise the issue of the restitution of Jewish properties seized during the Holocaust, a matter Warsaw insists is closed. “Poland decided to cancel the visit of Israeli officials after the Israeli side made last-minute changes in the composition of the delegation, suggesting that the talks would primarily focus on the issues related to property restitution,” the Polish Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

In April, I attended a Fireside Chat at NYU Law School hosted by a moderator who was throwing softball questions to Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. The crowd, about 90 percent Polish, clapped profusely when the prime minister did not back down from his stance on Poland’s Holocaust Law.

As a background to this controversial law, Article 55a was condemned for being an impediment to free discussions of the historical facts about the Holocaust in Poland. A letter signed by many high-profile individuals in Poland, including former president Aleksander Kwasniewski, stated, “Why should the victims and witnesses of the Holocaust have to watch what they say for fear of being arrested, and will the testimony of a Jewish survivor who feared Poles be a punishable offense?”

The law damaged Israel-Poland relations even before being passed, when Israel’s Foreign Ministry Director General Yuval Rotem reported that preserving the memory of the Holocaust takes priority over international relations. It is a main issue pertaining to the core of the Jewish people, and the grievances and losses suffered in the past. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has gone as far as to accuse Poland of Holocaust denial.

As the evening at NYU progressed – in what was supposed to be a celebration of Poland being a part of the European Union for the past 15 years – the Polish prime minister stood his ground and stated that the Poles were just as much victims as the Jews. The fact is that history has proven that there were Polish civilians who 100 percent played a role in attacking and killing innocent Jews including stealing their property and valuables, even before the Nazis arrived. To maintain a false stance that they were merely just “bystanders” is a blatant lie.

Morawiecki has gone as far as to say that his government will not pay any compensation for property lost during World War II, since the Poles were the war’s major victims. To quote Morawiecki, “We were the most murdered victims here during the Second World War, and we will never agree to any payments for anyone for this reason, any compensation.”

There is a famous quote that says, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” The problem for the prime minister and certain Poles today is that one cannot shun the past and deny the wrongdoings that occurred. In contrast, they must own up to it, face it head on and rise to the occasion by acknowledging the mistakes that were made, and mandate that the nation learn to fight hatred, bigotry and antisemitism.

If Morawiecki wants to improve relations with Israel and the Jewish community at large, he must educate the next generation to never forget the three million innocent Jewish Poles of the six million in total who were murdered in the Holocaust. ■

Joseph Scutts received his undergraduate degree in Business Cum Laude from Yeshiva University, and his MBA with Double Distinction from Long Island University. He is a financial adviser who resides in NYC and is involved in Israel-based and Jewish advocacy organizations

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