Approximately 3 million Jews, 90% of Polish Jewry were murdered during WWII on Polish soil. The majority of them perished in concentration camps such as Auschwitz, Sobibor, Majdanek, Chelmno, Plaszow, Belzec and Treblinka. Others were killed in killing pits after having dug their own graves. In addition to Polish Jews, more than 500,000 other Jews were killed in (what used to be called) Polish concentration camps. Many believe that the major killing camps were specifically located in Poland because it was fertile ground for anti-Semitism and the murder of Jews would be readily accepted and not provoke protestations.
In sharp contrast, Bulgaria which actually joined the Nazi axis in 1941, did not deport its Jewish population which numbered 50,000 because government officials were courageous enough to rebel against pro Nazi leadership which had taken over the country. Dimitar Peshev, a former Bulgarian minister of justice was recognized as righteous among the nations for his role in blocking the deportation of 48,000 Bulgarian Jews; saving them from certain death.
Recently, the Polish government passed a law stating that “whoever accuses publicly and against the facts, the Polish nation, or the Polish state, of being responsible or complicit in the Nazi crimes committed by the third German Reich shall be subject to a fine or penalty of imprisonment up to three years.” Israel, the United States, France and others have characterized this law as a sordid attempt to white wash the Holocaust and change history.
Poland alleges that they were not involved in the persecution of Jews during World War II. However, it has yet to explain the following inconvenient truths:
1. Prior to World War II thousands of Polish Jews took up temporary residence in Germany and Austria (later annexed by Germany) with the rise of the Nazis in 1939.
Many Jews chose to return to their homes and families in Poland. In order to prevent the Jews from coming back to Poland, the Polish government passed a law which revoked the citizenship of people that did not renew their passports in 1938! The New York Times reported that this law specifically targeted the Jewish population and was “designed mainly to prevent their return.” Approximately 50,000 Jews were impacted by this anti-Semitic law. The New York Times continued to report on the situation with headlines, “Poland bars Jews deported by Reich.” We all know the fate of the Jews that were in the hands of the Germans.
2. In July of 1941, the Polish residents of the town of Jedwabne, turned on their Jewish neighbors massacring 1500 Jews, including those that they herded into a barn and burned their Jewish neighbors alive.
3. According to Jan Gross, professor of history at Princeton University, Polish citizens during World War II were responsible for the deaths of thousands of Jews; some accounts put this number at over 100,000.
4. Despite the fact that some Jews were saved by Poles who received money in return for safekeeping, there were many incidents where the Polish farmers took the money and murdered their “guests.” In countless other cases the Polish would be saviors who turned in the Jews who trusted them and handed them over to the Nazis.
5. Those few who were fortunate to survive the holocaust often times returned to their hometown to look for any surviving relatives. On July 4, 1946 Polish anti-Semites massacred over 40 survivors of concentration camps who had returned to the city of Kielce.
6. Poland appropriated Jewish property of families that were persecuted during the Holocaust. According to a report issued by the Polish government in 2012, Poland had over $10 billion of Jewish property in its hands. By all accounts they have refused to return the stolen property to the rightful heirs, saying that the “process takes time.” Case in point is the Hotel Lenart which advertises on its website that it is located on the side of the brick factory which is formally owned by the Friedman family (my grandparents).
Hotel Lenart**** may be proud of its unique history. Today’s multi-function building was arranged in lieu of an old Wieliczka brick factory. Apart from the Salt Mine, the brick factory used to be on the key industrial sites at Wieliczka from 1902 almost to the end of the 20th century. Its founder – Eliasz Hirsch Friedmann – owned also a mill and a sawmill which together with the brick factory constituted the Friedmann Works. After World War Two, the brick factory was taken over by the Zupy Krakowskie (Cracow’s Saltworks) Enterprise; nevertheless, the Brick Factory continued to thrive, like in the 1970s when the Factory was, in turn, made part of Terenowe Zaklady Ceramiki Budowlanej (Local Building Ceramics Factory). For more than a century, there were manufactured bricks, roof tiles and drain pipes.
Despite all of the above, the current Polish government has passed legislation to outlaw anyone from speaking about the collaboration of Poles in the persecution of the Jews during the Holocaust. The implications of law are clear. If one were to express the opinion of Polish complicity during World War II in promoting attacks on Jews, that individual will be subject to a three-year jail sentence. Over a quarter of a million participants from many countries have participated in the March of the Living visiting concentration camps in Poland and later traveling to Israel. Undoubtedly, this is an emotional and memorable experience for all that March. However, it also provides the Polish government with millions of tourist dollars. Money is spent on airfare, hotels, food, tour guides, buses, taxes, etc.
In light of Polish anti-Semitism in the past and in light of their attempt to whitewash the Holocaust and change history, why are Jewish Tours promoting trips to Poland? Just this week the Polish Prime Minister ,Mateusz Morawiecki accused the Jews of being perpetrators of the Holocaust!! Czechoslovakia, which is currently a staunch supporter of Israel, would be an ideal alternative for the March of the Living. Participants could be taken to Theresienstadt, which played a key role in the Nazis implementation of the Holocaust. Approximately 33,000 Jews were murdered there and 100,000 deported from there to Auschwitz and other killing camps. Participants can also see the ancient Pinkas synagogue in Prague which is inscribed with the names of 80,000 Jews who died in the Holocaust. The Charles Bridge in town which contains a crucifix with Hebrew inscriptions is an important historical reminder of anti-Semitism in Europe.
Efforts by governments around the world to push Poland to change this despicable law will fall on deaf years as long as Jews continue to visit their country despite their attempts to rewrite history. Poland has over $10 billion of Jewish money…why give them another zloty?
(Rabbi Zev Friedman is the Rosh Mesivta, Dean Of Rambam Mesivta for Boys and Shalhevet High School for Girls)