Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki on Thursday issued a joint statement on the Polish Holocaust Law, a.k.a. the Poslish Death Camps Law. Habayit Hayehudi Chairman and Education Minister Naftali Bennett strongly criticizes the declaration, calling it “a disgrace rife with lies.”
But an almost giddy Polish official was firm on the joint statement – the freewheeling Polish translation of which was published in that country’s media, despite the prior agreement between Netanyahu and Morawiecki that only the English version would be used as a basis for publication.
“For us, the position expressed by the Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu is binding,” Deputy Foreign Minister Bartosz Cichocki told the Polish state news agency PAP.
In the statement issued jointly by Israel and Poland last week, the only sentence that relates to the Polish part in the extermination of Jews in Poland denounces cases of cruelty by Polish individuals during World War II. Of course, there were numerous cases in which Poles were cruel to their Jewish victims, but what about all the other cases in which Poles participated in killing Jews in more benign ways, such as turning their Jewish neighbors in to the Nazis? It is estimated that at least 200,000 Jews were killed as a direct result of being turned over by their neighbors, but no mention of that appears in the document signed by PM Netanyahu.
An almost uniform response of Israel’s media, left to right, suggested this week that the Prime Minister of Israel has no authority to grant such an exemption, and that his signing such a document, it amounts to a pardon to the Polish nation, the majority of which happily encouraged the murder of its Jews – who accounted for some 10% of the population at the time.
“The declaration also diminishes the role of many Poles who informed on, turned in and even murdered Jews (‘We recognize and condemn every case’), as opposed to the numerical glorification of (‘many Poles’) Righteous Among the Nations who were miraculous, but not numerous,” Bennett argued. “In other words, the rare benefactors are turned into a common phenomenon, and the prevalent incidents of snitching and murder are presented as rare.”
“The historical reality is that the assistance of Poles to the Jews was a relatively rare phenomenon, whereas Polish attacks against the Jews were widespread. This contrast cries out to the heavens,” Bennett said.
Professor Yehuda Bauer, one of the most important Holocaust scholars in Israel, told Ynet: “This declaration legitimizes the violation of freedom of expression and freedom of research. Every Polish official who finds out that in his town Jews were robbed during the Holocaust, will not be able to reveal the truth and if he does, he will have to pay a fine. The future implications may be that if we turn to American and European officials in the future and complain about the damage done by the Polish people during the Holocaust, they will tell us, What do you want – your government signed this document.”
Yad Vashem issued a statement suggesting that “a thorough review by Yad Vashem historians shows that the historical assertions, presented as unchallenged facts, in the joint statement contain grave errors and deceptions, and that the essence of the statute remains unchanged even after the repeal of the aforementioned sections, including the possibility of real harm to researchers, unimpeded research, and the historical memory of the Holocaust.”
The Yad Vashem statement continued:
“The [Netanyahu – Morawiecki] statement contains highly problematic wording that contradicts existing and accepted historical knowledge in this field. The joint statement’s wording effectively supports a narrative that research has long since disproved, namely, that the Polish Government-in-Exile and its underground arms strove indefatigably—in occupied Poland and elsewhere—to thwart the extermination of Polish Jewry. As such, they created a ‘mechanism of systematic help and support to Jewish people’ and even took vigorous action against Poles who betrayed Jews. Although the joint statement acknowledges that there were cases in which Poles committed cruelties against Jews, it is also says that ‘numerous Poles’ risked their lives to rescue Jews.
“The existing documentation and decades of historical research yield a totally different picture: the Polish Government-in-Exile, based in London, as well as the Delegatura (the representative organ of this Government in occupied Poland) did not act resolutely on behalf of Poland’s Jewish citizens at any point during the war. Much of the Polish resistance in its various movements not only failed to help Jews, but was also not infrequently actively involved in persecuting them.”