The Polish Holocaust law has elicited international reactions that — by now — have arguably become more interesting than the law itself.
In fact, the resulting publicity has once again brought the massive participation of Poles in the Holocaust — as well as the country’s major pre- and post-war antisemitism — into the limelight. This, of course, is exactly the opposite of what the new, conservative Polish government wanted to do.
Many details of Polish participation and complicity in the Holocaust are now re-emerging in the media. The historian Jan Gross is being widely quoted (he documented in his book, Neighbors, how the Jews of Jedwabne were burned to death in a barn by Polish residents of the town). The same goes for historian Jan Grabowski; he and his researchers have detailed the fact that Poles massacred 200,000 Jews during the Holocaust. They confirmed this figure — which had already been established by the Polish Jewish historian Szymon Datner about 50 years ago.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center has published — for the first time — a declassified State Department document from 1946, which compared Polish treatment of Jews to that of Nazi Germany. It stated that after the war, many Jews preferred to flee even to Germany (then occupied by the Allies) rather than return to Poland.
Best known among the Polish antisemitic crimes in the immediate post-war years is the 1946 pogrom in the town of Kielce, where 37 Jews were murdered. Last year, the 71st anniversary of that pogrom was marked locally with an interfaith prayer service. The next anniversary in July of this year may receive more media attention.
The month of March marks 50 years since 13,000 people of Jewish origin were stripped of their Polish citizenship and expelled from the country. On the occasion of the anniversary, Polish President Andrzej Duda offered a complex apology. The Washington Post titled the article devoted to it: “Poland’s president offers a nonapology apology for ’68 antisemitic purge.”
The Holocaust law also motivated me to republish quotes of an interview that I conducted more than 15 years ago with the then-Head of the International Institute for Holocaust Research at Yad Vashem, the late David Bankier. He said that, “most Polish underground organizations believed that post-Hitler Poland would be a country without Jews [and that] … those who remained would have to leave Poland after the war. This view was expressed even in the Zegota organization, the council for aid to the Jews set up by the Polish resistance. Among them were people who endangered their own lives.” Bankier remarked that the belief that Poland was not a country where Jews should live was highly indicative of true Polish feelings at that time.
A 2011 study by the University of Bielefeld found that 63% of Poles agree with the statement that: “what the State of Israel does today to the Palestinians is in principle no different from what the Nazis did to the Jews in the Third Reich.” This percentage was substantially higher than in the other European countries where the poll was undertaken.
Poland’s passage of the Holocaust law has also led to tensions with Israel, and caused a great deal of anguish for Polish Jews. Twenty three Jewish groups have signed a letter saying that they do not feel safe in Poland.
Poland has also sued an Argentinian publication and an author that wrote about the Jedwabne murders for the paper. The Polish claim is that the Argentinians “intended to harm the Polish nation and the good reputation of Polish soldiers.” This action ensures that the Polish manipulation of the stories about their country’s participants in the Holocaust will continue to draw international media attention. That is the opposite of what the Polish government wanted to achieve.
My research shows that in the last year, there has been a worldwide substantial increase in the abuse and distortion of facts about the Holocaust. The Polish Holocaust law — and the international reactions to it — can serve as a prime case study about an attempt at revisionism, and how it was exposed.
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Author: Manfred Gerstenfeld
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