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November 27, 2014 / 5 Kislev, 5775
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Righteous Gentiles Honored in Warsaw, But Poland’s Record Remains Abysmal

Poland's President Lech Kaczynski (R) in the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.

Poland's President Lech Kaczynski (R) in the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.
Photo Credit: Olivier Fitoussi /Flash 90

Some 55 Poles who have been named Righteous Among Nations over the years by Yad Vashem attended a luncheon gathering Sunday at the Warsaw Marriott Hotel sponsored by the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous.

Unfortunately, as highly as Jews praise the sacrifices made by these brave Poles, it is difficult to overlook Poland’s abysmal record in caring for its Jewish citizens under German occupation.

To date, about 6,400 Poles, out of a population of more than 22 million, have been named Righteous Among the Nations. That’s 0.21 percent (less than a quarter of 1 percent) of Polish Jews receiving help from Poles. Some 3 million Polish Jews perished in the Holocaust, many of them turned in by their Polish neighbors.

In the Netherlands, with a Jewish population of 154,887, there were 5,204 gentiles named Righteous Among Nations, which comes to 3.6 percent of Dutch Jews being saved by their neighbors.

In France, where 350,000 Jews, including many refugees, lived at the beginning of the war, there were 3,513 Righteous Gentiles, meaning about 1 percent of French Jews were saved by their neighbors.

In a series of speeches at the Warsaw event, Israeli Ambassador Zvi Rav-Ner and other Jewish representatives thanked them for their actions and praised their heroism.

“You, the righteous of the world, think your behavior was ordinary, but we all know it was something more than that. It was truly extraordinary,” said Stanlee Stahl, the executive vice president of the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous.

Those who attended the event called it a “moving occasion,” particularly given the age of most of the rescuers in attendance.

At a ceremony in Krakow one week before the Warsaw gathering, Rav-Ner posthumously honored five Polish women as Righteous Gentiles, presenting the awards to their grandchildren.

In Belgium, with a Jewish population of 100,000 on the eve of World War 2, there were 1,612 Righteous Gentiles, who managed to save 1.6 percent of their Jewish neighbors.

Even the record of Germans living in Nazi Germany was slightly better than that of the Polish citizenry. With 214,000 Jews in 1937, there were 510 Righteous Gentiles who saved about 0.24 percent of the local Jews.

The New York based Jewish Foundation for the Righteous was established in 1986 to offer financial help to gentiles who saved Jews during the Holocaust. The organization supports more than 750 needy rescuers in 22 countries. The foundation also runs an educational program in the U.S.

JTA content was used in this article.

About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.

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14 Responses to “Righteous Gentiles Honored in Warsaw, But Poland’s Record Remains Abysmal”

  1. Instead of reading some documents of that time or at least listening to people who lived then in occupied Poland, Mr. Yanower created a world of his own, a world of phantasy and hatred. I'm a naturalized American, formerly a Jewish Pole. I was there during the war, I talked to people, I read materials. The most blatant lie for me is comparing Poland to some Western European countries. As Mr.Yanower undoubtedly knows Poland was the only country among mentioned by him where the Germans imposed death penalty on those that hid Jews. If a Jew was discovered the entire family of the rescuers was murdered. The fact that Poland was also the poorest among his list of countries is also of great importance: people lived in crowded quarters and didn't have enough to eat themselves. Yes, there were antisemites in Poland. Even some of them helped Jews (the famous writer and creator of Zegota a Polish underground organization that helped Jews comes to mind). Some of the other antisemites were willing to collaborate with the German occupier to report on hidng Jews. There were also others that for money reported on Jews as well as on Polish underground fighters. The Polish Government in Exile (London, England) treated this scum with no mercy: if caught they were executed if only this was possible.

  2. Yori Yanover says:

    My father, who lost his entire family in Poland, told me: "For a thousand years we lived there — and still they turned us in. May they all burn."

    Racial policies against Jews were in place years before the German occupation. Limits on Jewish life was not a German invention. The Germans picked Poland for the location of the death camps because they knew that country was a fertile ground for Jew hatred.

    What I find the most loathsome is the Polish idea of their own victimhood. OMG, at least hide your head in shame and shut up, hoping no one will notice.

    And, incidentally, how do you explain the pogroms against Jews AFTER the poor muselmen came back from the ovens to their home towns? Who forced those on your poor Poles?

  3. Yori, may I please post your comment on my blog? With or without your name attached, as you prefer? Thank you.

  4. Yori, I hope this works for you. Perhaps you would like to post on the blog and converse with Polish Americans who might respond to your words? http://bieganski-the-blog.blogspot.com/2012/07/may-poles-burn.html

  5. Can someone inform me on the topic of restitution? Is it accurate to suggest that since the end of WW2, Poland has been remiss in compensating Jewry? Is it true to say that Warsaw is fearful that undertaking such a morally justified action would bankrupt the country?

  6. Mr. Yanover overlooks much historical content and important facts. He exaggerates Polish Catholic behavior, carelessly applies collective guilt to the entire nation, and forgets to ask and answer why Poland had the largest Jewish population prior to the outbreak of WWII.

  7. It is an ironic twist of history that Jews are demanding restitution for property confiscated by Germany during the war and the Soviets after the war. These demands should be addressed to Berlin and Moscow.

  8. Yori Yanover "The Germans picked Poland"? The first victims of the camps were mostly Polish Catholics, followed by Soviet POWs. Jews were not sent to the camps en masse until the implementation of the Final Solution in 1942. And yes, Poles were also targeted by the Germans, with the result that they killed equal numbers of Polish Christians and Polish Jews. Hitler extolled Germans to "kill without mercy all men, women and children of Polish language and nationality." Your anti-Polonism is clouding your perception of history.

  9. Brian Lewski says:

    Yori Yanover "…hide your head in shame and shut up…" Wow. You obviously need a few history lessons.

    To compare Poland's righteous rescuers to other Western European nations is beyond moronic. To your "hide your head in shame" retort, please have some of your own medicine: did you know that the percentage of Nazi-collaborating Jews that turned in fellow Jews is roughly the same as non-Jewish Poles that turned in Jews for money? Furthermore, who helped guard the ghettos along with the Baltic Nazi-collaborators and the Ukrainians?

    Lastly, why did Poland not instill a Quisling government with the Germans? Why were there no all-Polish SS Divisions? Why, only in Poland, was there a death penalty for so much as giving a glass of water to a Jew?

    You sir, are a bigot.

  10. Yori Yanover says:

    There are Poles living in my family's property today. At least I should be able to collect rent.

  11. And there are countless Poles, including my own family, who will never recover property confiscated by the Soviet-imposed communist regime. The relentless harrassment and denigration of Poland and the distortion of its history will not abate until the Jewish community is satisfied by "reparations".

  12. michaellevine says:

    Dear Mr. Yanover,

    As a person who has studied European History in depth in the USA, Israel, and Europe, numerous statements in your article are not accurate and don’t provide anything constructive to Jewish-Catholic relations, especially when it comes to Poland.

    First, a response to the fragment of your headline reading, “…But Poland’s Record Remains Abysmal” and a quote subsequent to that as, “…it is difficult to overlook Poland’s abysmal record in caring for its Jewish citizens under German occupation”. These comments are absurd. During the war in German occupied Poland, Polish Catholics (aka Poles) were subject to the harshest and cruelest laws in Europe when it came to saving their fellow Jews. Any Poles caught providing minimal food, shelther, clothing, or assistance to Jews meant instant death of those individuals, their entire family, destruction and razing of their home, and in many cases, the entire village. These strict regulations made it most difficult to save Jews, especially when Poles themselves were victims of the brutal German occupation. It was common for the Germans to carry out such penalties for saving Jews. Just how many of those Poles killed for saving Jews are recognized today? Not many, for sure, so there are perhaps thousands more to be recognized. Other countries you mention didn’t have such laws against saving Jews, so the comparison by percentages are rendered meaningless.

    There were indeed isolated instances of anti-semitism (as anywhere) with some Poles turning in their Jewish neighbors, however, this was not the common practice as some wrongly assume. Such events were indeed minor and cannot be applied collectively to the entire population of Poles. There were even fellow Jews who turned in their own for food or money. The situation during wartime occupied Poland is more complex than you care to admit.

    When it comes to restitution, this is also very complex and each nationality’s and religion’s case must be considered. After WWII, Poles (and the government) lost over 180,000 square kilometers of land in Poland’s Eastern/Northern territories, including vast amounts of real estate, historical cities, natural resources, and much more. Until today, none of it has ever been recovered. In these former Polish territories were also located the majority of pre-war Poland’s Jewish community, who also lost property along with fellow Christians. Real estate in cities include Lwów, Wilno, Pińsk, Grodno, Stanisławów, Tarnopol, and many more. It’s almost impossible to appraise the financial net worth lost by Poles and Jews in these former areas. Poland also gained 103,000 sq. kilometers of property from former German and Prussia, which doesn’t make up for their eastern losses. More so, what about the situation of innocent Germans who were forced out of their homes and relocated in current day Germany. What are their rights? So, in the East, there are Lithuanians, Russians, Bealrussians and Ukrainians all living in former Polish and Jewish homes. In current day Poland, there a Poles living in former German homes. However, this Western land that Poland received from Germany was justified as Germany instigated WWII and brutally occupied Poland. Poland’s loss of it’s former eastern land was in fact stolen by the Soviets, backed up by Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill, and Poland was an Allied Country. The restitution process is more complex than you think it is. Aside from that, *numerous* Jews have already received back their real estate after going through the normal legal process in Poland. Even after WWII, Poland was an ‘occupied’ country by the Soviets for more than 40 more years. The country was only truly independent once again after 1989.

    What we must remember are the hundreds of years of Jewish peace and prosperity in Poland, and not the several few years Jews were murdered in an occupied country by the Germans. There is a good reason why the Jewish population in Poland was the largest in the world prior to WWII. It was the most tolerant. Sure, there were some ethnic and religious incidents, but for the most part, life was quite normal.

    Michael Levine, Kraków, Poland

  13. Mr. Yanover’s original text and subsequent blog posts are laced with hate speech, something that an ‘editor’ ought to know better. Don’t be surprised if you receive a visit from the Anti-Defamation League. So much for understanding and respect for those who perished.

    My reply is to pose several questions to Mr. Yanover.
    Was WWII history taught in the school(s) you attended?
    Have you read Bloodlands: Europe between Hitler & Stalin by Timothy Snyder? If not, which books do you recommend on the subject?

    Since you seem to want to collect on a Warsaw building, were you aware that 85% of all the buildings in Warsaw were destroyed by the German military and 250,000 Polish citizens were murdered as they participated in the 1944 uprising (another on-going attempt at ridding themselves of the German oppressors) while the Soviet army sat and watched for two months?
    -Are you aware that it was the German Nazi Regime that murdered 6 million Polish citizens? If not, then please advise.
    -Did you know that over 400 entire Polish villages were burned to the ground and all of the inhabitants murdered by the German military as a punishment for often just ONE villager aiding a fellow villager that was Jewish?

    Your sentence that accuses of collaboration and moral failure is curious…whose collaboration or lack thereof and moral failure are you referring to exactly? The Jewish?? The Polish?? The Polish Jew?? The Germans?? The Americans and Brits?? The dead??
    -Do you know why 2 million adult Polish Jews failed to join up and fight for their nation, their freedom and their children? I don't, but I'd like to be educated, should you know. Did the average Polish Jew in 1939, 1940, 1941 have the expectation that someone else is responsible for their life and their survival?
    -The responsibility of WWII with its loss of 55 MILLION souls is justly laid at the feet of Germany and Soviet Russia and their horrifying ideologies. Don’t you agree?
    -Did you know that British officials and the President of the United States of America were visited by Home Army resistance fighter Jan Karski and were told in no uncertain terms what the German regime was doing. That the Germans had been torturing and murdering ethnic Poles for years in concentration camps and now had begun an extermination of Polish Jews en masse the likes the world had never seen? This news fell on deaf ears and those governments chose to do nothing. Shouldn’t they be held up for ransom too?
    -Why is it that you hold Poland and its ethnic citizens in contempt for what the Germans and Soviets did to those of Jewish faith? What exactly do you believe should have been done differently?

    You, Mr. Yanover, seem to be in the camp accusing Poles of not doing enough. Have you overlooked that it took the combined might of the US, the UK, and the USSR (when it finally changed sides), plus the Polish forces fighting with Britain in the West, plus the armies of the various British Commonwealth countries (Canada, Australia, NZ, India etc., etc.) to defeat Nazi Germany? Not one of these forces ever came to the assistance of occupied Poland. And yet people unthinkingly assume that unarmed civilians should have stopped the German atrocities. Also, very few people know that for almost TWO YEARS Poles were invaded by and subjected to occupation by BOTH the Wehrmacht and the Red Army SIMULTANEOUSLY.

    In terms of post war compensation, all Central and Eastern European civilians should be compensated by Russia for the illegal takeover of their gov’ts, land, possessions and tens of millions of lives post war. And while we are at it, the 'Allies' should generously donate as well since they gave Stalin land and properties and the ability for him to murder additional millions of lives with impunity. I ask you what recompense have the families of those 55 million killed during the war and those post war received for the loss of their loved ones?

    Mr. Yanover, please take your case to the Germans for starting WW2 and bombing Warsaw, the Soviet/Russians for watching the carnage for 2 months and to the United States and Britain for handing over the citizens of Poland to 45 years of forced enslavement, torture and murder.

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