The Polish Senate on Wednesday approved by a 58 to 14 vote a new law making March 24 a national day of remembering Poles who saved Jews during the Holocaust. Mind you, the new law says nothing about remembering the 3 million Polish Jews who were murdered in their home country, nor the 3 million additional Jews of all nationalities who were hauled to Poland because it seemed like the natural place where you could murder a lot of Jews and not meet much resistance.
On Wednesday, Sara J. Bloomfield reminded JTA readers that “Poland was ground zero for the post-Soviet reclamation of the truth about the Holocaust and other Nazi crimes, much of which happened on Polish soil under the brutal German occupation.” Of course, she noted, the Germans “provided some funding, but Poland assumed the major financial, historical and moral responsibility,” producing the “enhancements to Birkenau, Belzec, Majdanek, Chelmno and other sites” which turned out to be “powerful and dignified,” and this way “Poland became a world leader in the cause of Holocaust remembrance and education.”
That was then, in those heady years just after Poland’s liberation from Soviet oppression and just before the rise of the nationalistic elements in Polish society over the past few years—who have had enough with all that Holocaust talk and the blame assigned to the Polish nation by so many around the world, including those pesky children of the millions of Jews who had been murdered on Polish soil.
Now, it seemed for a while, Poles want to forget those horrible years, of which they feel the victims and not the perpetrators – it was all the Nazi invaders’ doing, after all. So why do people keep referring to “Polish death camps,” when anyone in their right mind could see that they were German death camps. The new, nationalistic masters of Poland therefore passed a law to make it a crime to accuse Poland of complicity in the German industrial effort to annihilate the Jewish race. No Poles were involved in the commission of that genocide, and if you say that they did, and you happen to be in Poland at the time, you’ll go to jail.
This revisionist law was the center of attention for the better part of a year, with condemnations flying in from all over (because those pesky Jews are everywhere), until the law was finally passed and honest, patriotic Poles could finally sleep quietly at night and not have to ask themselves what are those strange marks on their doorposts where it looks like some little box was yanked off.
Enter Shaul de Malach, who has been leading youth groups on a tour of the Polish death camps for Ezra, and many other Jewish educators in similar positions, who decided to boycott Poland. He sent a letter to the Polish ambassador to Israel, citing fear for visitors’ safety, as well as Poland’s complicity in the Holocaust—including Polish camp guards, as his reason for rethinking his group trips.
To paraphrase Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, a Jewish group boycott here and a Jewish group boycott there, and before you know it – it adds up to a lot of złoty.
The new Polish bill, turning the world’s attention to the plight of the 6,706 Polish men and women who risked their lives to save Jews in the Holocaust (a pitiful number, considering how many Jews were turned in or murdered by Polish pogromists) was initiated by President Andrzej Duda to offset the sickening impression left by the “No Polish death camps or else” law. Will it repair Poland’s relations with Jewish people everywhere to the point where Shaul de Malach and his fellow death camp guides decide to bring their youths back, along with their foreign currency? Time will tell.
Meanwhile, the AP story did not explain why March 24 was picked as the day of recalling the heroism of 6,706 out of about 30 million Poles who were not nearly as heroic. So we looked it up and these are all the cases we’ve dug up as to why the Polish government went for this particular day:
March 24, 1794 – In Kraków, Tadeusz Kościuszko announced a general uprising against Imperial Russia and the Kingdom of Prussia, and assumes the powers of the Commander-in-Chief of all of the Polish forces.
March 24, 1915 – Polish chemist, mathematician and physicist Karol Olszewski died.
March 24, 1933 – German Parliament passes Enabling Act giving Hitler dictatorial powers.
March 24, 1942 – The start of deportation of Slovak Jews to Auschwitz.
March 24, 1944 – President Roosevelt issues a statement condemning German and Japanese ongoing “crimes against humanity.”
March 24, 1948 – Polish mountaineer Jerzy Kukuczka died.
March 24, 1951 – Polish long jumper Anna Włodarczyk died.
March 24, 1973 – Polish soccer player Jacek Bąk died.
Please let us know if you have a better explanation.