Poland has to recognize its past and stop running away from it. That is once again the lesson from what happened earlier this week when a delegation of Israeli government officials landed in Warsaw and was told to turn around, get back on the plane and return home.
The Israeli delegation was led by Social Equality Ministry Director-General Avi Cohen, and its members were supposed to have met with senior officials in the Polish government to discuss the establishment of a mechanism to coordinate the thorny issue of Holocaust restitution.
The Polish Foreign Ministry issued a short statement on its website saying that the visit was canceled, “after the Israeli side made last minute changes in the composition of the delegation, suggesting that the talks would primarily focus on issues related to property restitution.”
This is not the first crisis with Poland regarding the Holocaust. In February, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went there for a summit on the Middle East and Iran. While there, he was quoted as saying that “the Poles cooperated with the Nazis” during the Holocaust. Warsaw interpreted this to mean that Netanyahu was referring to Poland as a nation, another delicate issue for the country.
The Prime Minister’s Office clarified that Netanyahu never said “the Poles” but just “Poles” – but Warsaw refused to accept the clarification. As a result, Poland decided to downgrade its delegation to a diplomatic summit a few days later in Jerusalem. In the end, the entire trip was canceled when, a day before the summit, Acting Foreign Minister Israel Katz went on TV and said: “The Poles suckle antisemitism from their mothers’ milk... No one will tell us how to remember the fallen.”
And now, to make matters worse, Poland’s Ambassador to Israel Marek Magierowski was physically and verbally assaulted on Tuesday outside its embassy in Tel Aviv. This is obviously unacceptable, and the police – who soon after captured the attacker – need to allocate all of the necessary resources to prosecute him and ensure that this type of violence does not repeat itself.
The assault, though, was an isolated incident. Sadly, what is happening in Poland is not. There, the government is orchestrating a systematic whitewash of history. While it is true that Poland as a nation or the Polish people as a people did not collaborate with the Nazis, some Poles did, motivated by an antisemitism that sadly still exists in many parts of the country.
The fact is that some 3 million Polish Jews were killed in the Holocaust; when Warsaw constantly tries to rewrite what happened, it is an insult not just to the memory of the victims but also to the survivors, especially those from Poland.
Restitution of Jewish property has become a sensitive issue in Poland in recent months, following comments by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in February urging the country to pass restitution legislation.
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, a right-wing nationalist, has said that Poland will not compensate Jews for property lost during WWII.
Yair Lapid, co-leader of the Blue-and-White Party, said in response last week that: “It isn’t enough for them that Jewish blood cries out from Polish soil... now we’ve received more proof that there are antisemitic forces in Poland that dare to raise their heads at the same time that we mark Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel.”
We understand that Poland is heading soon to elections and that for politicians like Morawiecki, agreeing to compensate Jewish victims of the Nazis and their collaborators makes him seem weak in the eyes of far-Right voters. But that is inexcusable – and Morawiecki needs to know that what he is doing will strengthen antisemitism and lead to more hatred of Jews and the State of Israel throughout his country and across Europe.
Israel has an obligation to speak out against any attempt to rewrite the Jewish people’s tragic history. And it cannot remain silent when facing such a scandalous and blatant attempt to avoid responsibility for the crimes of the past. Morawiecki needs to be held accountable.