Poland’s Israel problem

The crux of Duda’s rejection of the invitation is the continued dispute between Warsaw and Moscow over whether their countries collaborated with the Nazis during World War II.

Cards are placed between railway tracks in the former Nazi death camp Auschwitz as people take part in the annual "March of the Living" to commemorate the Holocaust, in Oswiecim, Poland, April 12, 2018.  (photo credit: REUTERS/KACPER PEMPEL)
Cards are placed between railway tracks in the former Nazi death camp Auschwitz as people take part in the annual "March of the Living" to commemorate the Holocaust, in Oswiecim, Poland, April 12, 2018.
(photo credit: REUTERS/KACPER PEMPEL)
More than 40 world leaders are expected to converge on Jerusalem in two weeks for a momentous occasion.
Under the banner “Remembering the Holocaust, Fighting Antisemitism,” the dignitaries, accompanied by Israel’s prime minister and president, will gather for the Fifth World Holocaust Forum to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in southern Poland, the largest Nazi death camp in World War II.
The unprecedented event at Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, is to take place just ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day and against the backdrop of the rise in antisemitism around the world.
It is an occasion meant to be free of politics and provide a unifying topic that all visiting leaders can unquestioningly get behind.
On Tuesday, though, Polish President Andrzej Duda announced he will not join his fellow leaders at the forum. The reason given was that he was not invited to address the gathering.
However, as Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev explained Wednesday on KAN Radio, only representatives from the four main powers of the Allied forces that liberated Europe and the world from the murderous tyranny of Nazi Germany – the United States, Russia, France and Britain – were invited to give speeches. German President Franz-Walter Steinmeier, President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as the forum’s organizers, will also address the attendees.
The crux of Duda’s rejection of the invitation is the continued dispute between Warsaw and Moscow over whether their countries collaborated with the Nazis during World War II.
As The Jerusalem Post’s Lahav Harkov reported Wednesday, Poland has sought greater world recognition in recent years for the millions of Polish victims of World War II and of communism. Invaded by both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, Poland considers both countries to be aggressors responsible for the suffering and deaths of millions of Poles.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has argued that Western appeasement of Hitler brought about the war, and that the Soviet Union was forced into the nonaggression agreement to stave off a German attack because Britain allowed Hitler to annex Czechoslovakia.
If Putin is given time to speak at the forum about his country’s role, Duda asserts, then so should he. Polish Ambassador to Israel Marek Magierowski tweeted that Duda made his request to speak more than four months ago.
Shalev, however, said the forum is not convening to discuss the details of the war and who did what to whom or who is to blame.
“It’s about a renewed commitment to the memory of the Shoah and the continuing struggle against antisemitism. That’s why 42 heads of state have agreed to come,” he said, adding that each leader – including Duda – had been asked to write a lengthy statement as part of a joint declaration to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive through education and to commit to combat antisemitism.
No disrespect was meant toward Poland, he continued, while imploring Duda to reconsider his decision.
“Why not stand shoulder to shoulder with other world leaders against antisemitism?” he asked.
That is a great question and one that Duda should take to heart. Poland’s sensitivity over what it did or did not do during the Holocaust is shading decisions being made today – decisions that are flawed.
In 2017, Poland enacted a controversial law that outlaws blaming Poland for crimes committed during the Holocaust. Many Israeli officials condemned the law, including Rivlin.
As Shalev noted, the World Holocaust Forum is not going to focus on that aspect of Poland’s history. It is going to focus on the victims of the Shoah, what can be done to preserve their memory and to stop the rise of antisemitism around the world.
Duda should leave the politics at home and line up with his fellow leaders in Jerusalem, the eternal home of the Jewish people, to loudly proclaim “Never again!”


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