The lower house of the Polish parliament (Sejm) adopted on January 26, 2018 legislation that sets fines of up to three-year jail term for anyone who refers to Nazi German death camps as being Polish. The law is an answer to the use of false and offensive terms like the “Polish death camp” or “Polish ghetto” by international media outlets in reference to camps and ghettos run by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland. Israel and Jewish organizations criticized the bill. The hasty reaction of Jewish politicians, media and organizations triggered a serious political crisis between Warsaw and Jerusalem.
The phrase “Polish camp” is extremely offensive to Poles, who themselves were the victims of the German occupation. Three million ethnic Poles perished during the World War II, many of them in the German death camps. The Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, international groups like Polish Media Issues or foundations like the Good Name Redoubt – Polish League Against Defamation have been fighting against the falsification of history for many years. But the phrases like the “Polish death camp” appear in international news media and are used by public figures again and again. For this reason the Polish Minister of Justice Zbigniew Ziobro launched a legislative procedure two years ago penalizing the use of historically false phrases. “This will be a project that meets the expectations of Poles, who are blasphemed in the world, in Europe, even in Germany, that they are the Holocaust perpetrators, that in Poland there were Polish concentration camps, Polish gas chambers,” Ziobro told private radio RMF in February 2016 . “Enough with this lie. There has to be responsibility,” he said.
Article 55a. of the bill reads: “Who, in public and against facts, ascribes to the Polish Nation or to the Polish State responsibility or co-responsibility for committed by the Third Reich Nazi crimes defined in art. 6 of the Charter of the International Military Tribunal attached to the International Agreement on the prosecution and punishment of major war criminals of the European Axis, signed in London on August 8, 1945 (Journal of Laws of 1947 item 367) or for other crimes against peace , humanity or war crimes or otherwise grossly reduce the responsibility of the actual perpetrators of these crimes, punishable by a fine or imprisonment of up to 3 years.”
The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) stated in 2017 that “it shares the Polish government’s opposition to the historically unsupportable use of the terms “Polish Death Camps” or “Polish Camps” to refer to the camps and sites of persecution and murder established by Nazi Germany on invaded and occupied Polish soil”. IHRA strongly urged its members “to stop using this term in discourse and in publications” and encouraged others “to stop using it as well”. However, the press release with IHRA’s statement disappaered “mysteriously” from IHRA’s homepage during the last weekend.
There are not too many differences between the Polish bill and the legislation in other countries, including Israel, condemning the Holocaust denial, but the bill prompted an avalanche of criticism and a wave of hatred in Israel by officials and individuals who warned that it blurs the historical truth and risks stifling research on the Holocaust. In fact, the proposed Polish law excludes prosecution of scientist and artists.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the bill “baseless”, demanded its withdrawal and accused Poland of denying history. Yair Lapid, the founder and leader of Israeli Yesh Atid went further and stated via Twitter: “I utterly condemn the new Polish law which tries to deny Polish complicity in the Holocaust. It was conceived in Germany but hundreds of thousands of Jews were murdered without ever meeting a German soldier. There were Polish death camps and no law can ever change that”. Also the Israeli ambassador to Poland Anna Aznari criticised the legislation in a speech at an official ceremony commemorating the 73rd anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi German concentration camp on January 27, 2018. She called on the Polish authorities to withdraw the bill.
Israel’s Education and Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett instructed schools to dedicate two hours this week to study about the involvement of European nations in the Holocaust. “This is a shameful disregard of the truth. It is a historic fact that many Poles aided in the murder of Jews, handed them in, abused them, and even killed Jews during and after the Holocaust,” he said.
Actually, the collaboration of Poles with Germans was a marginal phenomenona and the so called szmalcownicy who blackmailed Jews in hiding and the Poles assisting them, were chased and executed by the Polish Underground. The Polish diplomat Jan Karski was the first to bring eyewitness accounts of the Holocaust to the Allies. Witold Pilecki, Polish intelligence officer of the underground Home Army, infiltrated Auschwitz and passed its blueprints to London. The Polish government in exile, the files of UN War Crimes Commission (UNWCC) archives record, supplied extraordinarily detailed descriptions to the UNWCC of concentration camps such as Treblinka and Auschwitz, where millions of Jews were gassed. The Polish diplomats like Henryk Sławik (Hungary) or Aleksander Ładoś (Switzerland) helped save thousands of Jews from the Holocaust by providing them with illegal passports. Żegota, the Council to Aid Jews, coordinated protection and escapes of Polish Jews. Poles constitute the largest national group of the Righteous Among the Nations, with more than 6,500 honoured by Yad Vashem, even though in contrast to other countries of Europe, in occupied Poland, providing refuge to Jews was punishable by death to the whole family.
Bennet forgets also the other side of the coin. The Jewish Ghetto Police abused and robbed fellow-Jews in an attempt to survive or to impress their German supervisors. Abraham Gancwajch, a prominent Nazi collaborator in the Warsaw Ghetto and a Jewish “kingpin” of the ghetto underworld founded in December 1940 the Group 13 network, a Jewish Nazi collaborationist organization, which was described by Gutman and Ringelblum as the “Jewish Gestapo”. He preached collaboration with the German occupiers in a specially printed booklet which outraged the Ghetto residents. He and other members of his group, pretending to be Jewish underground fighters, were hunting for Poles hiding or otherwise supporting the Jews. He was also the leader of the infamous Żagiew, a Gestapo-sponsored Jewish organization. He is also known to have tried to sabotage attempts at the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Chaim Mordechai Rumkowski, a Polish Jew and wartime businessman appointed by Nazi Germany as the head of the Council of Elders in the Łódź Ghetto during the occupation of Poland in World War II, is another example. Rumkowski transformed the Ghetto into an industrial base manufacturing war supplies for the Wehrmacht (Wikipedia).
United States Holocaust and Memorial Museum describes the Jewish councils in a more euphemistic fashion: “During World War II, the Germans established Jewish councils, usually called Judenraete. These Jewish municipal administrations were required to ensure that Nazi orders and regulations were implemented. Forced to implement Nazi policy, the Jewish councils remain a controversial and delicate subject. Jewish council chairmen had to decide whether to comply or refuse to comply with German demands to, for example, list names of Jews for deportation.”
Will Naftali Bennett instruct schools to learn also this part of the involvement of European nations in the Holocaust?
Israel and Jewish organization were kept up to date by Poland about the legislative works during the last two years. Polish officials, including the prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki, have stated publicly that Israelis were consulted during the formulation of the law and that in 2016 they agreed that the bill’s terminology was acceptable.
During the last weekend, the Jewish organizations, Israeli media and public officials decided, however, to strafe Poland. It seems that the Israel has just launched an official brainwashing campaign to humiliate Poland and to use the defamation as an instrument for political purposes. The fabricated melee may be part of a larger longterm campaign to bully Poland into coughing up billions of U.S. Dollars.
Yair Lapid-the-liar is apparently Netanyahu’s main rival in the upcoming election and both politicians seem to play “dueling banjos” to see who can out-do the other in moral outrage. Meanwhile, Germany cheers from the sidelines.
The project group Stop Act H.R. 1226 condemns in the strongest terms the Israeli attack on Poland and calls for a dialogue between the both nations.
Copyright remark: the image of the praying Auschwitz prisoner is published with courtesy of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum.