Jews from Poland and abroad gather for commemorations marking the 75th anniversary of a massacre of Jews in Jedwabne, Poland, on July 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Michal Kosc)

Poland defends inclusion of pogroms in reparation demands: Nazis should have saved Jews

Faced with criticism for including Polish pogroms against Jews during the Holocaust in his recent report on the damage done by Germany during World War II, the chairman of the Polish committee who wrote the document gave the following justification: the Nazis had to protect them.

Earlier this month, the Polish government published a three-volume document of more than 1,300 pages, “Report on the Losses Suffered by Poland as a Result of German Aggression and Occupation during World War II, 1939–1945.” announced as a calculation of the reparations that Poland thought it deserved from Germany.

The third volume includes a list of 9,293 villages, towns and cities where the “atrocities of Nazi Germany” took place, as well as the death toll. Poland demanded 1.3 trillion euros ($1.29 trillion) in reparations from Germany for damages, primarily for the human cost of the war.

Germany rejected this demand.

This list includes a number of villages where pogroms of ethnic Poles took place, in which hundreds or even thousands of Jews were killed.

The village of Jedwabne in northeastern Poland is the most famous site of one such pogrom, in which in July 1941 hundreds of Jews—perhaps as many as 1,600—were burned alive or otherwise killed by their Polish neighbors. villages in the area in the summer of 1941, when Germany seized the area from the Soviet Union, which had occupied it brutally since 1939.

“Due to the aggression of Germany, the Third Reich and the USSR occupied Polish lands. According to international conventions, state occupiers are responsible for the security of the population, life and property. Jedwabne was under the occupation of the USSR and the Third Reich, killing citizens of the Second Republic,” wrote Arkadiusz Mularczyk on Twitter.

Mularczyk, chairman of the Polish committee that wrote the report, was apparently referring to the 1907 Hague Conventions, which require an occupying power to “ensure, as far as possible, public order and security.”

When asked what she thought of this justification, Israeli Holocaust scholar Javi Dreyfus used a Yiddish expression of annoyance:nude shoe“, while the statement sounds “like a bad joke.”

Dreyfus, who is also a professor of history at Tel Aviv University and a research fellow at the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center, head of the Holocaust Center in Poland, said that at least Mularczyk admitted that the Poles pogrom Jedwabne, as they did in past. , there were false claims by the Poles that it was carried out by German soldiers.

To say that the Germans have an obligation to prevent this sounds like a bad joke.

Dreyfus dismissed the report as more about current geopolitics than historical data.

“The report is not a historical essay, it is a political document. He uses and abuses history to demand economic and moral demands,” she told The Times of Israel on Monday.

Poland has been grappling with its legacy of the Holocaust for decades, and especially with what has happened in Jedwabna since 2000, when the Polish-born American historian Jan Tomasz Gross wrote a book about the event called Neighbours, which caused a great uproar in Poland when he was released.

Javi Dreyfus (courtesy)

For decades after the war, under Soviet influence, Poland largely considered itself innocent of the Holocaust, focusing on the role its partisans played in the fight against the Nazis and the actions of the “Righteous Among the Nations”, non-Jews. who rescued Jews during the Holocaust as if they were the norm and not the exception.

According to Dreyfus, in Poland, these “righteous” had to hide their actions not only from the Germans, but also (and sometimes even mainly) from their Polish environment.

“[During the Cold War,] there was no independent research in Poland, which began very impressively after the fall of the Iron Curtain. But even before that, there were critical voices regarding the involvement of the Poles in the Jewish tragedy during the Holocaust,” said Dreyfus.

Connected: In its $1.3 trillion demand from Germany, Poland is demanding reparations for the Jews killed by the Poles.

In 1987, Jewish Polish literary critic Jan Błoński wrote a much-discussed article in a local newspaper demanding that Poland acknowledge its passivity during the Holocaust, prompting a fierce reaction and insistence by some on Poles’ innocence, but also legitimate reflection. others.

This debate intensified after the release of “Neighbours”, prompting a government investigation that found that the Poles had indeed burned their Jewish neighbors alive in Jedwabna and rioted elsewhere.

Polish writer Jan Tomasz Gross, author of the 2001 book Neighbours, about the murder of the Jewish community of Jedwabne by Polish neighbors. (Eastern news)

The reasons why the Poles did this were less clear. Anti-Semitism alone, which undoubtedly existed in these areas, could not adequately explain it.

“In the period between the two world wars, Jews in Poland faced anti-Semitism, especially since the mid-1930s. However, there were no massacres (or even anything close to them) as during the Holocaust,” Dreyfus said.

“These mass murders of Jews by their Polish neighbors took place in the context of the anti-Semitic policies of Nazi Germany, the former Russian occupation and the brutality of World War II. But the claim that Germany was responsible for preventing Poles from killing Jews during the Holocaust is so out of context that it almost sounds like a bad joke. Polish officials know history; thus, this statement is not only unhistorical, but also very disturbing,” she said.

In the 20 years since Neighbors was published, further studies have been written revealing even greater involvement of Poles in the implementation of the Final Solution. One researcher, Jan Grabowski, estimated that approximately 200,000 of the 3 million Polish Jews who were killed in were directly or indirectly killed by the Poles.

Earlier this month, Grabowski told The Times of Israel that the Polish report was “appalling” and accused the government of deliberately ignoring Poland’s involvement in the Holocaust.

The current Polish government has clearly sought to change the perception of the country’s role in the Holocaust.

For example, she fought decisively and successfully against the erroneous term “Polish concentration camps” to describe Nazi installations on Polish soil, such as Auschwitz or Treblinka.

We are witnessing a new stage in the distortion of the Holocaust. The Polish government… distorts or even outright lies about the cases of the killing of Jews by Poles

Most recently, in 2018, Poland criminalized claims that the Polish state was or was partially responsible for Nazi crimes. The move provoked protest from Israel, and the standoff largely ended when Poland agreed to amend the law to remove any criminal penalties.

However, it opened the door to civil lawsuits, and several were filed against Holocaust researchers both in Poland and abroad, including Grabowski.

Meanwhile, Polish authorities are investigating Princeton University researcher Tomasz Gross for a similar but different law against “insulting” the Polish people.

“We see a new stage in the distortion of the Holocaust. The Polish government does not deny the Holocaust – on the contrary, the Holocaust is very important to it – but only certain parts of it: they emphasize the cases, which, of course, were the majority, when the Germans killed Jews, but hide, distort and even rewrite cases when the Poles killed Jews — and these cases are also part of the history of the Holocaust.”

According to Dreyfus, this included exaggerating the number of Jews rescued by the Polish “righteous among the nations”, underestimating the number of Jews killed by Poles, or even providing so-called “justifications” for these attacks, as well as inflating the number of Poles killed. at war.

In the case of Jedwabne, some Polish officials have in the past claimed “comments without a historical basis”. Some have tried to link or even justify the massacres of Jews by their Polish neighbors by accusing Jews of supporting the Soviets, but this contradicts the real complex history and the fact that many of the perpetrators of the pogroms themselves served both the Soviets and the Nazis.

Instead, this explanation could be seen as “an attempt to blame the Jews for their own deaths,” she added.

Dreyfus said it was part of an overall effort by Poland’s ruling right-wing party Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (PiS), or Law and Justice, to equate the Polish experience of the Holocaust with the Jewish experience of the Holocaust.

“This should be seen as a fight for sacrifice. PiS attempts to present Polish Jews killed for their Jewishness, along with other European Jews, as part of the Polish victims killed during World War II. While obscuring the massacre of Jewish men, women, and children by Polish suffering, they argue that Poles and Jews suffered the same persecution and emphasize Polish suffering. Poles and Jews were unequal victims and should be treated as such; Nazi Germany received support for its murderous actions throughout Europe, including Poland,” she said.

This led to an ongoing diplomatic rift between Warsaw and Jerusalem. Trips to Poland by Israeli high schools and the Israeli military have been canceled, with Israel saying this is because the Polish government is insisting that it dictate the educational content of the trips.

However, Dreyfus stressed that there are prominent Polish scholars who do not follow the government’s line and study the Holocaust thoroughly; some of them have even faced or are facing legal action for doing so.

“These Polish colleagues are not only excellent historians, but also courageous, professional and dedicated scholars whom I admire for their pioneering academic work,” she said.

Dani Dayan, chairman of Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum, also denounced the growing phenomenon of Holocaust distortion, which he says can be seen not only in Poland, but also in Russia, Ukraine, France and other European countries.

Holocaust survivors pose for a photograph with Yad Vashem Holocaust Remembrance Center Chairman Dani Dayan (center) during an event where they were thanked for sharing their experience with groups, September 19, 2022. (Yad Vashem)

“It usually goes like this,” Dayan told The Times of Israel on Monday after an event at a museum dedicated to the memory of Holocaust survivors.

“[They say] “Of course the Holocaust happened and of course six million Jews were killed and there were gas chambers and execution pits.” But every country says, “But in my country, all the citizens tried to help.” The truth, of course, is that this is a fallacy. In almost every single European country under German occupation, there were far more collaborators, not to mention observers, than the righteous among the nations – those who saved the Jews.

Dayan, who made his announcement the morning after Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi questioned the Holocaust, said the misrepresentation issue was deeply troubling because it was perpetrated by governments and political parties with significant resources, as opposed to “an overt, uncompromising Holocaust denial.” ”, which has become more of a minor phenomenon.

“The problem of distortion is more serious than the problem of outright denial, which is limited to fundamentalists and anti-Semites like Mr. Raisi,” Dayan said.

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