Polish President Andrzej Duda touches the Western Wall during a visit to the Old City of Jerusalem January 17, 2017.
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)
In recent days, a number of senior politicians published statements directed against Poland and its people in the context of Poland’s alleged responsibility for the atrocities of the Holocaust. A bill is being advanced in the Knesset as a reaction to the legislation in Poland. In this situation, we feel obliged to distance ourselves from these irresponsible statements and put the historical record in order.
In World War II, the Polish nation fell victim to foreign aggression. For the fourth time in its history, Poland suffered division and foreign occupation, the cruelest of all. The Polish state was abolished and the Polish nation decapitated as its elite were systematically exterminated.
The Nazi ideology considered Poles to be a racially inferior people. During that period, millions of Poles lost their lives.
Yet, the Polish people never succumbed to the aggression, bravely fighting against the invasion and rebelling against the occupation. No Nazi puppet government was formed. The only legitimate representative of the Polish people was the Government of the Republic of Poland in exile – which acted to alert the world at a very early stage regarding the ongoing extermination of the Jews by Nazi Germany.
As in almost every area occupied by the Nazis, there were individuals who, from malice or avarice or fear, collaborated with the occupying power. Some of those collaborators assisted in the genocide against the Jewish people. These collaborators included both Polish Jews and Polish gentiles. Totalitarian oppression makes some ordinary men and women into heroes, but it also makes some into scoundrels and weaklings.
It is repugnant to assign to an entire people the collective moral responsibility for the crimes of individuals committed without legitimate authority. Such reassignment of blame serves only those who wish to blur the distinction between the guilty and innocent, and thus taint the latter because of crimes of the former.
For the last 30 years, after regaining full independence, Poland has developed a vibrant democracy. Like every democratic country, it conducts robust debates on a variety of issues. Naturally, there is a broad range of views about the propriety and wisdom regarding one or another piece of legislation. But it is not our task, as citizens of a fellow democratic state, to intervene in this debate or ti teach another free country lessons in democracy.
The strong friendship between Israel and Poland in recent decades has been a good example of what the relationship between two democratic peoples should look like. We should not allow unwarranted political opportunism to damage this friendship.Efraim Podoksik is a senior lecturer at the Department of Political Science of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Michael Kochin is a professor at the School of Political Science, Government and International Affairs of Tel Aviv University.