Yad Vashem’s Bauer: Polish Holocaust distorters love dead Jews

Historians criticize Yad Vashem’s inaccurate map from World Holocaust Forum

A RELATIVE of a Holocaust survivor places a flower next to the name of a former concentration camp during a ceremony marking Holocaust Remembrance Day at Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. (photo credit: REUTERS)
A RELATIVE of a Holocaust survivor places a flower next to the name of a former concentration camp during a ceremony marking Holocaust Remembrance Day at Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Polish commemoration of the Holocaust does not erase the fact that Poles murdered Jews, Yad Vashem and Hebrew University historian Yehuda Bauer said at the Fourth Polish-Israel Foreign Policy Conference in Jerusalem on Tuesday.
He raised the matter of distortion of Holocaust history, which has clouded relations between Poland and Israel since January 2018, when Warsaw outlawed tarnishing Poland and its people’s “good name” by claiming its complicity in the Holocaust.
According to Bauer, the distorters say: “‘Of course, the Holocaust took place, and it was terrible, and we commemorate it, establish museums, statues and mainly make wonderful, terrific speeches.’ They love Jews, especially dead ones. That doesn’t mean Poles didn’t persecute and murder Jews.”
Prof. Havi Dreifuss, head of the Center for Research on the Holocaust in Poland at Yad Vashem, argued at the conference, sponsored by the Israel Council on Foreign Relations and the Polish Institute of International Affairs, that Polish distorters of history don’t even like all dead Jews – only the ones murdered by Germans.
“There is a total denial [of] Jews who were killed by Poles,” he said. “Most Jews were murdered by Nazi Germany, and nobody [in Poland] could save them. But there were Jews killed by Poles in different ways... Polish scholars have shown us there were participants of Poles in the tragedy of Jews throughout the whole country, and this demands true research.”
Those who seek to distort history “make the argument that there were no Polish political collaborators with the Germans,” Bauer said. “It’s true, simply because the Germans simply didn’t want them. Not in Ukraine, or Lithuania, either. The Germans eliminated pro-fascist, pro-Germany attempts to create some kind of autonomy.”
While the number of Poles who took part in the genocide of the Jews is not settled, he cited estimates from different historians who say there were 130,000-180,000 or 200,000, pointing out that either way, it was widespread.
“No collaboration?” Bauer said. “There were thousands of Polish policemen who handed over Jews... There was a Polish criminal police that was part of the German criminal police in Poland. There were fire brigades – so many buildings in Poland were built of wood – they collaborated fully and nicely with the Germans.”
Dreifuss said: “This is part of history” and should be researched and discussed. “No one blames Poland for the deeds of the Germans. But what we do say is Poland should take responsibility for the deeds of the Poles.”
BAUER AND Dreifuss expressed support for historians Barbara Engelking and Jan Grabowski, who are being sued in Poland over the contents of their book Night Without End.
“If they are found guilty of attacking the honor and good name of Polish people, they are likely to get a fine that may destroy the possibility of their work in the future,” Bauer said. “I don’t think the disagreement on certain facts should come in front of courts. That is not democracy. That is Bolshevism.”
At the same time, he acknowledged that an estimated 10% of ethnic Poles lost their lives due to German occupation, citing “massive attacks by German forces on Polish villages and a whole program of eliminating Poles.”
Bauer estimated that about 30,000 Poles saved Jews, though they are not all recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations because of a lack of documentation.
Dreifuss said: “The Polish nation can be very proud of their struggle against Nazi Germany outside Poland and, of course, within occupied Poland. But sadly, many Poles accepted one part of German policy: the murder of Jews.”
She criticized the conflation of Polish Jews and ethnic Poles in statements that Polish participants in the conference made, such as using the formulation that six million Poles were killed, three million of whom were Jewish. Dreifuss said even though Jews had Polish citizenship at the time, they were not viewed equally by other Poles. For example, while the Polish underground fought the Germans, the occurrences in which they tried to save Jews or punish Poles for killing Jews were rare, she said.
POLISH POLITICAL scientist and diplomat Jakub Kumoch tried to defend Poles for not treating Jews like they were one nation, referring to Jews living in separate communities and not speaking Polish.
He said Grabowski’s and Engelking’s numbers were very far from the truth and could not be considered quantitative research.
“Poles were responsible for the deaths of thousands of Jews,” Kumoch admitted.
He compared the situation to Israel and the Palestinians: “Would anyone deny that the Israeli army committed crimes against Arabs? What if I said Israel killed 100,000 Palestinian children? That would make you a genocidal nation, and you are not a genocidal nation. Not all Poles were heroes. Many were traitors. We despise them. We are ashamed of them.”
Polish Ambassador to Israel Marek Magierowski said: “When I meet teenagers here... I don’t shy away from the past. I don’t hide virulent antisemitism, pogroms, [or] Poles who acted inhumanely during the war.”
However, he said, he also tells the story of two villages where German soldiers killed 31 people, 20 of whom were children, the youngest of which was six months old, because they hid two Jews.
“I want them to have the whole picture: the scale of intimidation millions of Poles were subject to, the very same Poles blamed for not being heroic enough to rescue their Jewish brethren during the Holocaust,” Magierowski said.
The Yad Vashem historians also spoke out against their institution using a video about World War II that left out the Russian invasion of Poland as part of the World Holocaust Forum last month, for which the museum has apologized.
“It was a terrible mistake, a total distortion of history,” Bauer said. “It was our fault.”
He countered reports that the video was made under Russian pressure, saying: “There was no conspiracy there, no outside influence. We checked that. This was purely an internal failure, and we admitted it.”
Dreifuss expressed hope that Yad Vashem will not be defined by the mistake.
“Hopefully, Yad Vashem will find a way to face this most problematic event... [and] be more successful in what we are usually doing, which is showing a very complex picture of the Holocaust,” she said. “We are proud that people who come and hear the history of the Holocaust can’t leave Yad Vashem saying, ‘We’re such wonderful people’ – doesn’t matter if they are Polish or from another nation.”
“Our failure is that we didn’t manage to bring up those difficult questions to all those guests that came to Yad Vashem at this event,” Dreifuss said.
Polish Institute of International Affairs president Dr. Slawomir Debski said today is “a time when the future is certain, but the past seems unpredictable.”
“If you are rich enough, you can buy your narrative," he said. "You can buy historians, journalists, parties to force them to speak the most unbelievable untruths... It’s on us to deliver historical truth and deliver this message to future generations.”