I know there is a dialogue taking place between the Israeli and Polish governments over Poland’s recently enacted Holocaust law, but a few historical points must not be ignored.
Last week’s joint statement from the prime ministers of Israel and Poland notes that “the governments of Poland and Israel call for a return to civil and respectful dialogue in the public discourse.”
It is important to me to add “based on historical truth” because we cannot hold a dialogue that ignores the truth and what really happened and ignores the Jews’ suffering on Polish ground during the Holocaust.
True, Poland was the only country occupied by Germany in which no citizen joined the SS to fight alongside the Germans, unlike some French, Dutch, Belgians and Ukrainians, the last of whom guarded the concentration camps.
On the other hand, Poland was the only country in which, after the Nazis were defeated, local anti-Semites carried out a pogrom and murdered dozens of Jews. I am referring to the 1946 Kielce pogrom, in which dozens of Polish Jews who had survived the Holocaust and wanted to go back to their homes in Kielce were killed as a result of blood libels akin to the story of Jews using Christian children’s blood in religious rites.
This pogrom is why I would also change the section of the joint statement that reads: “We acknowledge and condemn every single case of cruelty against Jews perpetrated by Poles during World War II.”
The crucial words “and immediately after it” need to be added. We should remember the simple truth: Polish brutality towards Jews took place not only because of the Germans.
Another section, on sentences handed out by the Polish government-in-exile, is also problematic. Sometimes, Polish Jews and Polish Christians alike were forced to work together—that is just common sense, given that a million Poles were murdered by the Nazi scourge.
But that did not make us brothers; the Poles’ hatred for Jews was too great.
My daughter-in-law’s father, the late Binyamin Kolik—a Holocaust survivor who fought with the Polish underground under a fake identity because he was afraid his comrades would discover he was a Jew—once told me: “If a Polish underground fighter had a single bullet left in his gun and he could kill a German or a Jew, he’d kill the Jew.”
The historical facts in the Israeli-Polish statement have not been thoroughly checked. This is a sad day and a step that could hurt many Holocaust survivors and weaken the war against anti-Semitism—not only in Poland but in other European countries as well.
Mordechai Hareli is a Holocaust survivor.
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