Neo-Nazi groups commemorate the "Day of Honor," the breakout attempt by Schutzstaffel (SS) troops from Soviet-surrounded Budapest during World War Two, in Budapest.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
No use arguing the point. Israel, Israelis and Jews in general are sensitive, even hyper-sensitive, to anti-Semitism.
But when the education minister of Poland, a supposedly close friend of Israel, says in a national interview that the burning of 300 Jews in a barn in the rural town of Jedwabne is a matter of opinion, there is no doubt that the speaker is indeed an anti-Semite.
To label her ignorant or uninformed is to bend over backwards and ignore the obvious. Last week people in Poland and around the world, Jews and non-Jews alike commemorated the 75th anniversary of the horrific massacre of the Jews of Jedwabne at the hands of local Poles in July of 1941.
Poland also commemorated the mass murder of 42 Jews in Keilce as a result of a blood libel that took place after World War II. Yes, Polish Jews survived the war, the Holocaust, the camps, the hiding, the running, the starvation and returned to their homes, searching for whatever and whoever else may have survived, only to be murdered by local Poles who were taught to believe that Jews kidnapped a local Christian boy who had gone missing after an apple-picking outing. They were taught to believe that the Jews had ceremonially killed him and extracted his blood to be used for a religious cultic rite.
For years Poles have insisted that they resent being painted with the same brush as the Nazis. And by commemorating the murders in Jedwabne and in Keilce Poles were acknowledging and asking forgiveness for the horrors that they – not the Nazis – had perpetrated, and not whitewashing the truth.
The hatred, the murder, the policies, the technology, the efficiency, the sheer numbers that came together to form the Nazi plan to murder the Jews was on a level that was unique in history. The world is different because of the Nazi murder the Jews of Europe. The role played by Poland in helping Hitler carry out his plan was significant.
In the name of truth and humanity, Poles must come to grips with the facts. Jedwabne is a classic example. For decades local Polish officials and national Polish educational channels claimed that the brutal murder of those 300 Jews was carried out by Nazis, not Poles. Until 16 years ago.
In the year 2000, Jan Tomasz Gross, a Polish American sociologist, published an insightful and groundbreaking work after investigating and researching the massacre. Gross proved beyond a doubt that in July 1941 the Jews were murdered by their Polish neighbors. He called his book Neighbors and with its publication he opened the floodgates of introspection for individual Poles and the Polish government.
And for the first time since the war, official apologies were made.
And then Anna Zalewska, the Polish education minister, decided to weigh in and offer her two cents.
She said that the massacre is a matter of opinion. She said it in an interview on Polish TV, on PVN with Monika Olejnek. She said, “Jedwabne is a historical fact that has led to many misunderstandings and very biased opinions.”
In other words, while it cannot be denied that Jews were the victims – it cannot be said with certainty that they died at the hands of Poles.
Clearly floored by the response of the woman charged with educating the children of Poland, the interviewer said: “Poles burned Jews in a barn.” To which Zalewska calmly retorted, “That’s your opinion, and your are just repeating Mr. Gross’ [opinion].”
Not owning up to this atrocities perpetrated by Poles is immature and immoral and, of course, morally and historically dishonest.
Nazis must be held historically accountable for the evil they perpetrated. But only for what they perpetrated. Morality, memory, history, justice and the souls of the Jews of Jedwabne require that those responsible for their death by fire be named.
There is enough hatred and anti-Semitism in our world. The government of Poland has made great strides in correcting its wrongs. Now is not the time to backslide.
The author is a political commentator. He hosts the TV show Thinking Out Loud. Follow him on Twitter @ MicahHalpern.