Why are we still talking about this? That is, about Poland’s denial of history, its divorce from facts?
“Polish death camps.”
The phrase was President Obama’s.
It’s was substantively right but technically wrong. Obama apologized. He said he misspoke. “That should have been the end of it,” said Rabbi Israel Lau, a former chief rabbi of Israel and a former inmate in one of those camps.
But it wasn’t the end of it. Poland just couldn’t let go. It had to launch the patently ridiculous campaign to clear itself of any complicity — any at all — in the Holocaust. The facts are not on Poland’s side. The facts are simple, and twofold, but hardly evenly balanced:
• Poland had more righteous gentiles, people who risked (or gave) their lives to save Polish Jews from the Nazis, than any other nation.
• Poland had many more citizens who aided the the Nazis, not to mention a culture in which virulent anti-Semitism was widespread.
Yes, it was the Germans, not the Poles, who established the death camps in Poland — but there was a reason why the Nazis chose Poland.
We humbly salute the Poles who saved or tried to save Jews from the Nazis. We soberly acknowledge the terrible hatred that most of Poland bore toward the Jews. Both.
Poland just cannot come to terms with its history, as Germany has, and even as Austria, very belatedly, has attempted to. Poland needed to pass a law criminalizing anyone who told the truth about Poland’s complicity in Holocaust. Doubly astonishing here is the obvious fact that no Pole alive today is implicated in the historical complicity, tacit or active, of Poles during the Holocaust. The painful truth is nothing personal. But the problem with Poland’s abuse of the truth is not just historical. If the truth implicates no living Pole, the denial of the truth endangers many living Poles. These are the brave Polish liberals who stand up for the historical truth about Poland’s complicity in the Holocaust.
These people are alive. These people are now at risk. As Yehuda Bauer, a leading historian of the Holocaust, has put it: “ . . . betrayal, betrayal, betrayal, betrayal of the great Polish liberals out there, truly wonderful people, who are telling the truth, who are investigating. It [the new Polish law] means they will blame the liberals Poles, they will accuse them of violating the honor of Poland, they will be fined and they will be bankrupt, stripped of their budgets, they are liable to lose their jobs.”
Another astonishment: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has signed a “joint declaration” with the prime minister of Poland, which includes this sentence: “Unfortunately, the sad fact is that some people — regardless of their origin, religion or world view — revealed their darkest side at the time.” Excuse us? Regardless of their religion? It was the Jews who revealed their darkest side at the time of the Holocaust? To say this is the dark side of the dark side.
The ugly implication of this sentence in the joint declaration has rightly aroused the ire of many Jews around the world against Netan-yahu. That neither he nor Israel authorized the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs to translate the declaration into English and distribute it worldwide is no defense and no excuse. Now Israel has fallen into the trap Poland created for itself: stoking a mistake.
Israel cannot solve Poland’s Holocaust denial. No “joint declaration” can do this. Only Poland can do it — by itself.
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