Let me make something clear from the beginning: I don’t think I ever used the phrase “Polish death camp” before last night. Certainly not in my coverage of the Knesset’s visit to Auschwitz in 2014.Obviously, the concentration camps in Poland were planned and used by the Nazis.But the newly-approved Polish bill that sparked my tweet didn’t just ban the phrase “Polish death camps” like the headlines say. It outlaws any mention of Polish complicity in the Nazi atrocities, and the offense carries a prison sentence of three years.Here are some facts about Poland and the Holocaust: Half of the Jews murdered in the Holocaust, about 3 million, were Polish. Over 90% of Poland’s Jewish population was slaughtered in the Holocaust. You don’t get to numbers like that without cooperation. In 1941, Poles in the Jedwabne started a pogrom, and locked Jews in a wooden barn that they set on fire. After the war ended, another pogrom against Jewish refugees took place in Kielce, which is only one of about a dozen cases of postwar violence against Polish Jews sparked by blood libels. Stories abound about Jews who tried to return to their homes in Poland only to be threatened or murdered by their former neighbors – including some people who I know personally.At the same time, yes, over 6,000 Poles have been recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations, and hundreds were killed by the Nazis for helping Jews. Yes, the Polish government in exile helped expose Nazi concentration camps to the world. And yes, 1.9 million non-Jewish Polish civilians were killed by the Nazis and others in combat – but not the equivalent six million that many of my new Twitter buddies claimed.
Polish death campsPolish death campsPolish death campsPolish death campsPolish death campsPolish death campsPolish death campsPolish death campsPolish death campsPolish death campsPolish death campsPolish death campsPolish death campsPolish death camps— Lahav Harkov (@LahavHarkov) January 27, 2018
As a journalist, and as a freedom-loving individual, I abhor censorship. I can just barely stomach it for national security reasons. But this has no security value. This is censoring history to protect Poland’s national ego and avoid confronting the demons of its past. This is borderline Holocaust denial, and it goes along with a trend occurring in neighboring countries, like Hungary and Ukraine. So I fought back with a tweet, using the phrase the Polish government seems to be so afraid of, and thousands of Poles got angry at me. My tweet was shared not only by the deputy justice minister, but on popular Polish social media accounts, and the response flowed on Twitter and Facebook throughout the day.I did expand on my point, that there were plenty of Polish people who hated Jews and participated in massacring them, but the death camps tweet drew the most attention, with over 2,000 responses as of Sunday evening.THE MOST POPULAR response was to call the death camps German, which is legitimate enough.The second-most common response I got was to say that Jews are to blame for killing other Jews in the Holocaust, with photos of Jewish ghetto police, and that beloved conspiracy theory of antisemites worldwide and especially among former members of the Soviet bloc, that Jews are to blame for communism, and therefore, all the deaths it wrought.Here’s a choice comment, posted on Facebook by a Lukasz Karsznia, spelling and grammar unchanged: “U r a non educated Jew I feel sorry for my Grandads that they saved Jewish Babies from being Slaughtered like worthless pigs beause meaybe if they didn’t Nazis would gas ur dad and u would not be here with ur garbage coming out from ur filthy mouth u ungreatful dirty Jew, U brought shame upon ur self and ur Nation and u r a walking SCANDAL of this earth Amen.”Never mind, Lukasz, that my dad was born in New York over a decade after the Holocaust, and his parents were born in New York, too. But yeah, sure, your grandfather saved us.Apparently Lukasz’s grandfather and the grandfather of nearly every single other person who decided to harass me on Twitter saved Jews. All of this apparent Jew-saving reminded me of a story my grandfather on my mother’s side has told me many times.My grandfather was born in Berlin, in Nazi Germany, and his parents smuggled him out to Tel Aviv, meeting him there soon after. After my grandparents got married – my grandmother is a Sabra, or a Palestinian, if you will – they went backpacking in Europe for their honeymoon, and one of the stops was West Germany, because they were giving free college tuition to Jews who had survived.When my grandfather interviewed for a place in the university, each and every interviewer, who were the right age to have been in the war, said that they opposed the Nazis and supported the Jews. He didn’t end up going to college in Germany; he was too disgusted.With all of these people who loved Jews so much, it’s a wonder the Holocaust ever happened, my grandfather always scoffs.So I ask Lukasz and my other new fans: If all of your grandparents saved so many Jewish lives, how were 90% of Polish Jews murdered?Poland needs to face facts. Their country was deeply antisemitic, and it remains so. An Anti-Defamation League poll from 2014 shows 45% of Poles hold antisemitic views.The way to let go of hate is for Poles who want better for their country to admit it’s there, talk about it, and try to release the demons. Censoring talk of Polish people’s complicity in the Holocaust will only make the hatred that allowed these atrocities to take place simmer and deepen.
This is such an insidious form of Holocaust denial. “It was a damn war!” You know, not like Jews were singled out for genocide or anything like that. https://t.co/DRE8Xy6dSF— Lahav Harkov (@LahavHarkov) January 28, 2018