January 30, 2018: Readers take on Poland’s self-image from World War II

Our readers weigh in.

Letters (photo credit: REUTERS)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
With regard to “Israel, Poland agree to resolve conflict” (January 29), as a survivor from Poland, I feel duty-bound to bear witness to several of my close relatives, as well as the many thousands of victims who died at Polish hands.
Survivors know the term “Polish camps” can be misunderstood by the less informed. Nevertheless, Poles are far too obsessive about it. All survivors know the truth about Poland and it has been very well documented. The current controversy is not new; it is an attempt by the Polish Law and Justice Party to proscribe and bury the truth about widespread Polish complicity in the Holocaust.
There is a compelling reason why the Nazis decided to place all six death camps on Polish soil.
It’s not just because Jews lived there, as the standard Polish excuse goes. Hitler was mindful of public opinion at home and he didn’t want any death camps inside the Reich.
The Nazis were fully aware of the pervasive pre-war Polish antisemitism and that there would be no opposition or repercussions from the Polish public – maybe even the locals would be thankful to the Germans for ridding Poland of its Jews.
Emanuel Ringelblum, the eminent diarist of the Warsaw Ghetto, mentioned this detail. This is also borne out by the fact that many Poles benefited materially from the Jews’ demise.
Furthermore, the insidious pre-war Polish government under Smigly-Rydz came up with the Madagascar Plan in 1938 to expel the Polish Jews to the African island, but it ran out of time when Hitler turned his attention to Poland.
Hitler and his cronies considered reviving the plan in 1941. By this time, the hapless Jews were trapped inside the overcrowded and starving ghettos. He finally dropped the idea – he was fearful of the British Navy and the German tonnage involved, and they decided instead on the Final Solution in January 1942.
Herzliya Pituah
How pathetic the efforts of the Polish government to change the history of World War II.
The Nazis felt secure in establishing such camps in Poland simply because of the endemic antisemitism rampant there before the war.
There were plenty of pogroms that killed many Jews. How many Poles disclosed hiding places of Jews to the Nazis? It would be nicer for the Polish government to admit that “unpleasant events” took place and apologize to the victims and their surviving families.
It might happen, but I will not hold my breath.
Tel Aviv
I appreciate your attempt at balance in looking at the issue of Poland and the Nazis (January 29), but I was taken aback by the whitewash attempted by Seth J. Frantzman (“Setting history straight – Poland resisted Nazis,” Comment January 29).
Let me put the discussion in broader historical context.
My husband’s father was born in Warsaw in 1903. His father, witnessing the pogroms perpetrated by the Polish citizenry prior to World War I, decided to uproot the family from their home.
Fortunately, they all made it to the United States.
Thousands of their fellow Polish Jews were not so fortunate. All of this was pre-Nazis.
On our tour of Poland, our guide was a personal friend, considered the leading guide at Yad Vashem.
I cannot recount for you the number of locations we visited where the local Polish citizenry had aided and abetted the Nazis in the slaughter of the Jews. In fact, at a number of locations, no Nazis had been involved; the slaughter and atrocities were solely the work of the local citizenry.
I am sure it is very small consolation to those who lost family and friends who resided in Poland during the Holocaust that citizens in other countries were even more complicit. A specious argument if ever there was one.
Tzur Yigal
Let us, just for argument’s sake, accept the Polish government’s assertion that there was no Polish complicity in the Holocaust. I am intrigued to hear its explanation as to why, in July 1946, a year after the Holocaust, 42 Jews were killed in a pogrom committed by soldiers, police and civilians in the Polish town of Kielce.
Beit Shemesh
It’s official – Poles are still slaves. It’s unfortunate, but Friedrich Nietzsche tells us in Beyond Good and Evil that a nation that cannot shoulder responsibility is a slave nation.
Yesh Atid party head Yair Lapid’s emotionally charged words in his Twitter exchange with the Polish Embassy in Tel Aviv well illustrate how the two sides – instead of engaging in dialogue – are intent on maintaining quite distinct monologues.
From October 1939 until mid-1945, there was no Poland on the map. It had been defeated and taken over by Nazi Germany. While its eastern provinces were initially occupied by the Soviets, soon after the Germans’ 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union, all of pre-war Poland came under German control. So the various German camps, including the death camps, were not Polish.
They were German camps, or more precisely, Nazi German camps.
The Nazis clearly did not bother asking the Polish Government in Exile for permission to setup these horrific camps. There were several reasons why Poland was chosen, but the pervasive antisemitism in pre-war Poland does not qualify as a major factor. After all, antisemitism was pervasive throughout central and eastern Europe in the 1930s and well-entrenched in much of eastern Europe.
The two main reasons appear to be logistical efficiencies – the vast majority of Europe’s Jewish population resided in pre-war Polish territory or on its borderlands, and other possible locations were either under the control of Axis allies whose permission would be required or were active war zones.
Secondary but key reasons include an apparent effort to spread responsibility for the crime from a purely German to a collective European responsibility.
So the Poles do have a valid point (as has been acknowledged by Yad Vashem and all serious historians).
The matter of participation of Polish nationals in the persecution of Jews in Nazi-occupied Poland (and in the immediate period following the end of war) is painful to many Poles today, partly because it is perceived as diminishing the role of the many brave Poles who risked their lives to save their Jewish neighbors and friends, and because it ignores the fact that many Poles who would have wished to assist were too frightened to do so.
These perceptions – though mistaken – are enforced by generalizations and stereotyping by those in the Jewish community, including in Israel, who need to be more careful with their facts and their terminology.
Jews should remember that those Poles who actively took part in the persecution of Jews during World War II did not do so in the name or with the encouragement of the Polish Government in Exile or the popular prewar political parties, but rather in the name and with the encouragement of the German occupiers.
How Polish institutions, especially those tasked with formulating historical memory, handle this element of their wartime activities is something the Poles themselves need to think about and decide. But one thing is clear: Evasion would be counter-productive and harm Poland.
Clearly, the actions of antisemitic elements were at variance with the norms of both the modern Republic of Poland and the traditional understanding of Polish patriotism.