Yad Vashem slams Israeli-Polish statement on Holocaust

“A thorough review by Yad Vashem historians shows that the historical assertions, presented as unchallenged facts, in the joint statement contain grave errors and deceptions."

The Nazi slogan "Arbeit macht frei" (Work sets you free) is pictured at the gates of the former Nazi German concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau in Oswiecim, Poland January 27, 2017. (photo credit: AGENCY GAZETA/KUBA OCIEPA/VIA REUTERS)
The Nazi slogan "Arbeit macht frei" (Work sets you free) is pictured at the gates of the former Nazi German concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau in Oswiecim, Poland January 27, 2017.
The crisis with Poland over its controversial Holocaust law, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hoped had been put to rest last week when the Poles amended the law and issued a joint declaration with Israel on the Holocaust, reemerged with ferocity on Thursday after Poland publicized a Hebrew translation of the joint declaration in the country’s newspapers.
Israel urges Poland to change bill regarding its role in Nazi Holocaust, January 28, 2018 (Reuters)
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Sources in Jerusalem variously characterized the Polish step as a “provocation,” a “jab in the eye,” and an infringement of the agreement between the two countries, which held that the declaration should be issued in English alone.
The joint declaration was part of an agreement between Warsaw and Jerusalem whereby the Poles would rescind the clauses of the law making it a crime to assert that Poland was complicit in the Holocaust.
Ya’akov Nagel, who along with Joseph Ciechanover drafted the declaration, said there was no agreed-upon text in any language other than English. He termed the Polish government’s decision to publish a version in Hebrew as “scandalous.”
Despite the anger, however, no decision was taken in Jerusalem on Thursday to formally protest the move by the Poles.
The Polish government did not only take out large ads in Israeli newspapers publishing the agreement, but also in other newspapers around the world, including translating the declaration into German and running it in German newspapers. It also purchased an ad in The Jerusalem Post and ran the declaration in English.
To critics of the declaration itself, which was simultaneously read out by Netanyahu in Tel Aviv and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki on June 27, the scandal was not in the Hebrew translation or the publication of the declaration, but rather that it adopts what they consider to be a Polish version of Holocaust- era events.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett called the declaration a “disgrace” that was “full of lies” and lacked “factual or historical validity.” He pledged that it would not be taught in the Israeli educational system.
Bennett said that while he “respects and appreciates” Israel’s relationship with Poland, he will not “lend my hand in anyway to distorting the events of the Holocaust.” He demanded that Netanyahu either change the declaration, cancel it, or bring it to a vote in the cabinet, where he said it would certainly be rejected.
“It would be better were there no statement, rather than a false statement signed by the government of Israel,” he said.
Sources close to Netanyahu were quoted as saying that the prime minister has no intention of bringing the declaration to the cabinet.
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, who was among the loudest critics of the Polish law when it was brought up in January, called the declaration a “slanderous disgrace” and slammed Netanyahu for signing it.
“Two hundred thousand Jews were murdered in the Holocaust by Poles and Netanyahu signs a declaration that cleansed the Poles and disgraces the memory of those who perished,” he said.
Netanyahu’s critics accuse him of agreeing to the declaration out of an interest in maintaining good diplomatic ties with Poland, which together with other central and eastern European countries, has assisted Israel both inside the EU and in various international forum.
Yad Vashem, meanwhile, sharply rejected the declaration, issuing a statement on Thursday saying that a thorough review by its historians shows that the “historical assertions, presented as unchallenged facts, in the joint statement contain grave errors and deceptions.”
The Yad Vashem statement also said that even though the sections in the Polish law dealing with criminal sanctions for anyone attributing complicity to the Poles in the Holocaust will be rescinded, the statute will still have a chilling effect on research since civil action can be initiated against those impugning the “good name of the Polish State and the Polish Nation.”
The Yad Vashem communique said that the joint statement “contains highly problematic wording that contradicts existing and accepted historical knowledge,” and “effectively supports a narrative that research has long since disproved, namely, that the Polish government-in-exile and its underground arms strove indefatigably – in occupied Poland and elsewhere – to thwart the extermination of Polish Jewry.”
The Yad Vashem statement said that existing documentation and decades of research refutes the claims in the Polish-Israel statement asserting that the Polish government- in-exile attempted to stop Nazi activity “by trying to raise awareness among the Western allies to the systematic murder of the Polish Jews.”
“Much of the Polish resistance in its various movements not only failed to help Jews, but was also not infrequently actively involved in persecuting them,” the Yad Vashem statement said.
Yad Vashem also took sharp issue with a clause in the joint statement that stated: “We are honored to remember heroic acts of numerous Poles, especially the Righteous Among the Nation, who risked their lives to save the Jewish people.”
By contrast, Yad Vashem wrote: “On the question of the balance of forces between aid and persecution, the past three decades of historical research reveal a totally different picture: Poles’ assistance to Jews during the Holocaust was relatively rare, and attacks against and even the murder of Jews, were widespread phenomena.”
Furthermore, Yad Vashem said, “The statement also illegitimately uncouples the disaster that befell the Jews from its concrete historical context and the reality of occupied Poland during the war by claiming that during the war ‘some people, regardless of their origin, religion, or worldview, revealed their darkest side at that time.’ Beyond the outrageous insinuation that Jews also revealed ‘their darkest side at that time,’ those who revealed this side... were not devoid of identity. They were Polish and Catholic, and they collaborated with the German occupier, whom they hated, in persecuting the Jewish citizens of Poland.”
The joint statement also placed antisemitism and anti-Polonism in the same clause, condemning antisemitism and rejecting anti-Polonism.
Yad Vashem “vehemently” rejected the “attempts to juxtapose the phenomenon of antisemitism with so-called “anti-Polonism.”
“While we should put an end to the use of the misleading and ill-conceived concept of ‘Polish death camps,’ calling the use of such terms ‘anti-Polonism’ is fundamentally anachronistic and has nothing whatsoever to do with antisemitism,” it said.
Nagel and Ciechanover issued a statement in response saying that Yad Vashem’s chief historian, Dina Porat, accompanied the process that led to the joint statement from the beginning, and that the “historical statements that appear in the declaration were approved by her.”
They further stated that the joint declaration approved by the Polish government includes a clear statement that the freedom of researchers to study all aspects of the Holocaust will be preserved.
Porat could not be reached for comment.
Noted Holocaust historian Yehuda Bauer, Yad Vashem’s academic adviser, said on Saturday in a Kan interview that the declaration “borders on betrayal.” He said that Israel gave its “seal of approval” to a Polish narrative of events, “which is an entirely mendacious story.”