THE PERIMETER fence of Auschwitz II-Birkenau is enveloped in a thick evening fog during the ceremonies marking the 73rd anniversary of the liberation of the camp and International Holocaust Remembrance Day, near Oswiecim, Poland, January 2018.
(photo credit: KACPER PEMPEL/REUTERS)
For the past century the American Jewish Congress – an organization I have the privilege to lead – has stood as a staunch, robust opponent of any and all who would harm our people. While this is our primary mission, we are equally duty bound to call out friends and family should they stumble in their uncompromising defense of the Jewish people. In this vein, and with a heavy heart, I feel it is my obligation to critique the State of Israel for signing a joint statement with Poland praising the latter’s efforts to end a dispute over Holocaust legislation that would have criminalized identification of Poles complicit in Nazi crimes.
The Holocaust is one of the most significant events in modern history and the worst genocide in human history. It is an event that changed the course of the Western world and had a monumental effect on Jews across the world. The Holocaust is no one’s property and no one has the right to rewrite or decide on its facts and stories. Nevertheless, Poland and Israel are treating the Holocaust as if it was their property to decide what happened and what did not. It is not their prerogative and with that they took a step too far.
While the bill in question may have been rendered less dangerous, it goes nowhere near to ensuring that the legions of Poles who, by turning a blind eye to or through direct cooperation with German wartime crimes, enabled the Holocaust. By signing this cosmetic statement, the Israelis fail to address the underlying issue that gave rise to this problem in the first place: rising antisemitism and extremism in Poland, manifested by a concerted, strategic campaign of Holocaust denial.
Don’t just take the word of this one man, born in a post-World War II displaced persons camp, whose family was annihilated through direct Polish support for the German extermination campaign. Yad Vashem and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum – two institutions with unimpeachable credentials in ensuring that Holocaust research remains accurate and thorough – have been unsparing in their reasoned condemnation of Israel’s willingness to be party to potential Holocaust revisionism.
The Joint Israeli-Polish statement runs counter to objective historical research and, by failing to address resurgent Polish antisemitism, gives cover (inadvertently, I am sure) to revisionist arguments asserting that the Polish government-in-exile during World War II defended Jews in the face of the Nazi onslaught. The reality, precisely to the contrary, is not only that the government did not defend beleaguered Jews, but in many cases was an active partner in their destruction on an industrial level. I address this issue from a deeply personal place: My own Polish Jewish family was burned alive during the war by Poles who purported to protect them.
I am of a generation of Jews who, from the cradle, proudly looked to the Jewish state as a “light unto the nations,” an exemplar of righteousness, humanity and fealty to historical accuracy in the face of those who would deny the undeniable in furtherance of intolerance and hate. It is my sincere hope that Israel’s momentary deviation from this ethos is a fleeting anomaly.
As much as I love the Jewish state and would defend it with my life, I will never agree that it has the right or ability to alter history, especially when such revisionism is potentially so damaging to the Jewish people.
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The writer is the president and chairman of the American Jewish Congress.
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