An invitation to Polin.

Current conflict should not overshadow centuries of Jewish-Polish history and cooperation.

‘POLAND WAS literally the only country in German Nazi occupied Europe that NEVER demonstrated ANY complicity with the fascist Nazi occupiers (photo credit: REUTERS)
‘POLAND WAS literally the only country in German Nazi occupied Europe that NEVER demonstrated ANY complicity with the fascist Nazi occupiers
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In Hebrew, “ Polin ” means “here you will dwell.” This is how Jews used to refer to my country. For centuries Poland has been home to a great and diverse Jewish community. A melting pot of various ethnicities and religions – a tolerant Poland served as a safe haven for other nations, including Jews. This is the reason for which POLIN – the Museum of the History of Polish Jews was recently founded in Warsaw. It tells the story of Jewish life in Poland and the great misfortunes that have affected our multinational community.
Nazi Germany, by creating extermination camps in occupied Poland, changed the Jewish perception of my country. In those German, Nazi death factories, millions of Jews, many of whom where Polish citizens, were murdered. These events left Poles facing a great test of solidarity – one that not everyone passed. On an individual scale there were, no doubt, shameful incidents and behaviors. This however does not change the fact that it is Poles who have, more frequently than citizens of any other nation, been awarded the honorary title of “Righteous Among the Nations.” Many Poles risked their own lives, as well as the lives of family members, to save Jews. Poland, from beginning to end, fought with Germany on all fronts of World War II. An integral part of this fight, which started on the very first day of the war, was bearing special witness to the Holocaust and so to its memory.
The Polish Underground State, which functioned during the occupation, entrusted Jan Karski, who was recently awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, with a special mission. Risking his life, Karski managed to reach the Warsaw ghetto as well as the death camps and witness the tragedy first-hand. Karski was then sent, by his superiors, to the free world. His mission this time was of equally critical importance: testify about the Holocaust. He managed to come to the US, and in June of 1943 testified regarding the enormous crimes being committed by the Nazis. But the free world did not believe him.
Today, as we attempt to carry on his mission in some small way, is our duty to convey the truth about those events – a task best accomplished through educational programs about the Holocaust. That means focusing on the message “never again.” It also means taking note of and giving appropriate mention to nations around the world whose compatriots protected others at the risk of their own lives. All of those people who believed in saving the world one person at a time, the ones who were convinced that the last thing you should ever be is silent.
Today, Karski’s mission continues through the proper preservation of historical memory. We can, we must teach generations to come by passing on a true account of the Holocaust. We can, we must tell them the truth about the crimes of the past. First and foremost however, we must educate future generation on the tremendous amount of beautiful history that Poles and Jews share in the lands of the Commonwealth, the Republic. When we write this story for generations to come, it should be one of heroism and solidarity. We should talk about human lives saved and brotherly bonds maintained in the most difficult, in the worst of times.
What I can do as a young Pole is take action and invite you to Poland. I invite you to my city – my Warsaw. I invite you to a place that as a result of two uprisings, one in the Warsaw ghetto and another being the Warsaw Uprising, was almost completely destroyed. But I also invite you to a city that survived, a flourishing place – one that, through it all, has been witness to the true history of Poland and the history of Polish Jews. I invite you to visit walls that, to this day, bear the traces of insurgents’ bullets – serving as a constant reminder of the unshakable, heroic attitudes of Poles during the WWII. Attitudes of a brave generation that deserves to be appreciated and admired worldwide. Thank you to everyone who cares about the historical truth regarding Poland and Polish Jews – to all those who don’t steer clear of difficult subjects but speak the truth.
The author is a lawyer and entrepreneur based in Warsaw, Poland.