Birkenau concentration camp in Poland in the snow.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Former Polish prime minister and current president of the EU Donald Tusk says that the new law denying Polish complicity in the Holocaust is damaging the country’s international standing.
Tusk has warned his country against “antisemitic excuses” and noted the situation could turn into a public nightmare. Alas, that has indeed occurred.
Dr. Ephraim Zuroff from the Wiesenthal Center said, “The Polish government is trying to whitewash the crimes of Polish citizens during the Holocaust. The backlash from the new law has resulted in renewed antisemitic rhetoric all over eastern Europe.”
Much of it is envy that world sensitivity has not been as forthcoming for the citizens in Eastern Europe who suffered under Nazism and Communism (one out of five Poles was killed or tortured by Nazis or Communists).
However, while the suffering was real, it was nothing like the Holocaust. Communism led to privation, but the rounding up of Jews and the summoning to death camps was unique in world history.
Clearly the Polish government doesn’t want to impose national guilt on Poles for their role in the Holocaust. But keep in mind 3.5 million Jews residing in Poland were sent to concentration camps or killed; only 10% survived the genocide. Surely there were a few brave souls who helped Jews escape, but most Poles averted their gaze even when toddlers were buried alive. And some took advantage of the situation by acquiring Jewish private property, or simply taking it.
After the war many Jewish families returned to Poland in an effort to reclaim family treasures. In most cases they were rebuffed and in a handful of cases they were murdered.
Try as they might, Polish officials cannot sanitize these atrocities.
There are under 10,000 Jews living in Poland today, most with ties to the past that go back decades. The Polish president had promised to build a museum dealing with World War II and the Holocaust, yet recently reneged on his pledge.
While the Eastern European leaders have displayed gumption in standing up to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her pro-immigration position, they have failed to address the Holocaust issue fairly. Whether they like it or not WWII has returned.
The eruption of antisemitic commentary in public debates amid a diplomatic dispute with Israel over the new speech law has caused many Jews across the continent to rethink the certainty of their lives and their affiliation with Poland. Since communism’s collapse in 1989, Jewish life has been reemerging. Yet anxiety has been creeping in along with a global rise in xenophobia.
A conservative party, Law and Justice, won influence in Polish elections vowing to restore national greatness while stressing an anti-Muslim and anti-migrant message. With this party in power, Poland may be powerless to do anything about demons in its past. Jews have been targeted, albeit there have been relatively few violent acts, but rather antisemitic statements. But when the Israeli government blamed Poles for the crimes committed by Nazis, Polish officials struck back vehemently with what many have called an “antisemitic wave.”
Nevertheless, each time there is this outpouring of hateful commentary, Jews leave. It is not a whim; Jews know from experience what could come next.The author is president of the London Center for Policy Research.