An open letter to the prime minister of Poland, Mr. Mateusz Morawiecki

‘SHOES’ STARTS out with a pair of women’s shoes in a store window and follows their journey all the way to Auschwitz (pictured). (photo credit: PUBLICDOMAINPICTURES.NET)
‘SHOES’ STARTS out with a pair of women’s shoes in a store window and follows their journey all the way to Auschwitz (pictured).
Mr. Prime Minister, we are angry.
It doesn’t matter how many times you send us to read the new law in Polish, English or Hebrew. It doesn’t matter how much you try to reassure us it will still be legal to accuse this or that Pole of handing over Jews to the Gestapo, or murdering them. We are angry, hurt and concerned. The legislation your government is promoting, and your recent actions and remarks comparing Polish and Ukrainian perpetrators to Jewish perpetrators in the ghettos and the concentration camps, are touching the most sensitive nerves of the Jewish people and the people of Israel.
President Reuven Rivlin gave a speech at the annual Holocaust memorial service at Yad Vashem last year, in which he spoke against two wrong ways of thinking about and remembering the Holocaust. One is trying to present the Holocaust as a universal phenomenon, thus denying the uniqueness of the Holocaust as an unprecedented disaster in the history of mankind, that occurred to us – the Jewish people. Your remarks at the Munich Security Conference this week reflect an attempt to denounce the uniqueness of the Holocaust of the Jews, during which Jews were persecuted and sent to their death for their religious creed.
But the second way of remembering the Holocaust our president condemned was the one perpetuating our victimhood. “The Holocaust,” said president Rivlin, “is not the spectacles through which we want to look at our past and our future.” Every nation must strive to escape its victim past, and to look into the future with pride, power and vivaciousness. Like us, so are you, the citizens of modern Poland, trying to shake off the collective memory as victims and rehabilitate your national pride.
It is your right to lean on the historical truth which determines that there was no Polish state during WWII, that there was no Polish brain behind the “final solution” and that there were no Polish extermination camps. But you must not trample history, the lessons of the Holocaust, and the wounds of antisemitism, racism and hatred on your path to create a more independent, healthier future for Poland. On the contrary, recognizing the historical truth – the hate crimes and atrocities committed by Poles against their neighbors – is the right way to move forward.
My family, the Riemer family, lived in the small town of Dynow in southern Poland prior to the war. Jerucham Fischel and Channe Riemer, with their seven children and around 20 grandchildren (the accurate number is unknown), were God-fearing, honest and hard-working Polish Jews.
When the Nazis entered Poland, and reached Dynow, which marked the border between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, most of them were able to escape to the other side. However, it didn’t take long until they were murdered by their Polish and Ukrainian neighbors on the streets and in death pits.
As the offspring of and memorial to this magnificent tribe, which lost the finest of its sons and daughters on Polish soil, I believe we must look into the future. This generation is neither guilty nor a victim. But this generation is responsible. It is responsible for bearing the heavy burden of historical truth. The 800 years of Jewish history in Poland, and its bitter end, have bound forever the destinies of Jews and Poles.
As someone who visited Poland in and IDF uniform, and heard officers of the Wojsko Polskie (Polish Army) speak about the history of Poland and the Poles during WWII, I believe we must work for the future on the basis of truth, mutual respect and dialogue. I call on you, Mr. Prime Minister, to refrain from any problematic demeaning legislation, and to reach out to the Jewish people, the government of Israel and the people of Israel for the sake of rehabilitating the dialogue between our nations.
Sincerely, Ofek Ish Maas (Riemer)