A declassified U.S. State Department report documenting the vicious anti-Semitism on display before, during and after World War II makes it clear that it wasn’t only the German Nazis by a very long shot who reveled in tormenting Poland’s Jewish population.
The May 15, 1946 report, “The Jews in Poland Since the Liberation,” was declassified in August 1983.
The report, obtained by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, is a grim read for anyone of Jewish heritage, but for someone with Ashkenazi roots a thick Turkish coffee is well advised.
It underscores the point that anti-Semitism was a feature of Polish society long before the Nazis arrived – although sadly, it remained hale and hearty well after the war had ended as well.
The revelation of the existence of this document comes on the day that a lower-tier delegation headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Bartosz Cichocki met with Israeli officials in an effort to resolve the diplomatic crisis sparked by the passage of the country’s Holocaust Law. Israel’s team was headed by Foreign Affairs Ministry Director-General Yuval Rotem. Both teams included historians, journalists, jurists and legislators.
The law, which was set to go into effect Thursday, outlaws the use of the phrase “Polish death camps” and also criminalizes any reference to Polish links to Nazi war crimes during World War II. Violations are punishable by up to three years in prison and a steep fine.
Given the information revealed in the report declassified by the U.S. government, Poland has a lot backpedaling to do.
Consider what was happening to the Jews in Poland shortly after the liberation, as described on page one of the report: “So violent have been the anti-Semitic incidents reported and so widespread is the fear for their lives among the handful of Jewish survivors, that some Polish Jews have been reported seeking to escape to the American Zone in Germany rather than remain in Poland.” Those Polish Jews who returned to Poland from Germany turned right around and came back to Western Germany, according to the report.
“Religious and economic in its origins, Polish anti-Semitism was proached by political parties and church heads and practiced by officials high and low,” it goes on to explain. “By 1939, it was one of the distinguishing factors of the country’s political, social and economic life. Because anti-Semitism had already become so ingrained in Polish though, it is not altogether surprising that it still manifests itself in post-war Poland, although common suffering at the hand of the Germans might have been expected to bring the Poles and the Jews closer together.”
Looking back, however, one can see anti-Semitism wasn’t new at all. By mid-1936, the Polish government “gave open approval to the economic boycott of the Jews and thus aligned itself with the anti-Semitic forces in Poland… most Jews lived as “second-class citizens.”
Out of a Polish Jewish population of approximately 3.35 million before the war, only 80,000 Jews survived.
“All who remain of the pre-war Jewish population… find themselves in a hostile land, their property destroyed, their means of livelihood gone, every synagogue burned down…”
Post-war anti-Semitism wasn’t different from that of a decade or two earlier; prior Polish hatred of Jews contributed greatly to the collaboration between Poles and Nazis, according to the report — a reality blatantly denied by the current Warsaw government which hopes to legislate it away with fines and prison terms for those who dare to expose the truth.
“However, the anti-Semitic overtones in pre-war Polish politics predisposed many Poles to the acceptance of Nazi racial theories, and there is evidence that Poles persecuted the Jews as vigorously as did the Germans during the occupation,” the report notes on page 22.
“The retreating Nazis, moreover, left in their wake a heavy residue of their racial theories. Even before the liberation of Poland, anti-Semitic propaganda emerged in Polish emigre circles… Anti-Semitism reached such dimensions in the Polish Army… that many Jewish soldiers felt compelled to desert those forces and seek enlistment with other Allied armies.
“By mid-1944, widespread anti-Semitism was reported in Lublin and other parts of Poland … By April 1945, more reports were current and a dozen Polish towns were named as places were Jews had been killed, allegedly by members of the Polish Home Guard, the armed force formed by and loyal to the Government in Exile. These sporadic instances finally culminated in two fairly large-scale anti-Semitic incidents, at Rzoszow and at Cracow.”
By early October 1945, even Polish officials were said to be advising Jews to leave Poland for their own safety, according to the report. From Prague as well, there were reports of increasing anti-Jewish “manifestations” with leaflets being used to warn Jews to “get out before they were killed.”
According to the report (page 25) “fascist gangsters” had killed 352 Jews in Poland since the liberation to date (May 15 1946) and that 20,000 Jews had fled the country the previous year (1945).
The report concludes with the assessment that “Whatever the political prospect, life for the Jews in Poland will be harsh.”