politics to go

Poland, from Jewish oasis to anti-Semitic nation


Appearing at the Munich Security Conference in Germany, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki was questioned by an Israeli journalist who told of his mother’s narrow escape from the Gestapo in Poland after learning that neighbors were planning to denounce them. Then he referring to the new Polish Law making it illegal to accuse Poland of complicity in Nazi crimes. The journalist asked if he told that story in Poland would he be a criminal?

Morawiecki responded: “It’s not going to punishable, not going to be seen as criminal, to say that there were Polish perpetrators, as there were Jewish perpetrators, as there were Russian perpetrators, as there were Ukraine and German perpetrators.”

Jewish perpetrators? That’s new. Well perhaps not in Poland. Despite what the government claims, Poland remains one of the most anti-Semitic countries in the world. 

Not the least example is the new Polish law which denies the truth and makes it illegal for people to claim that “the Polish Nation or the Republic of Poland is responsible or co-responsible for Nazi crimes committed by the Third Reich.” The law carries with it a possible prison sentence of up to three years. The Polish parliament passed it last month, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The Associated Press reports that the debate over the new law has increased anti-Semitism in Poland: “A conservative party, Law and Justice, won power in Poland vowing to restore national greatness while also stressing an anti-Muslim, anti-migrant message. Jews — whose presence in Poland goes back centuries — were increasingly the targets of verbal hate on social media.

“Matters escalated a few weeks ago when Israeli officials sharply criticized new Polish legislation that criminalizes blaming Poland as a nation for crimes committed by Nazi Germany. They accused Poland of seeking to use the law to whitewash the role of the Poles who helped Germans kill Jews during the war.”

Not all Poles helped the Nazis kill Jews during the Holocaust but too many did. For example, was a massacre in the town of Jedwabne in summer 1941, where hundreds of Polish Jews were locked in a barn by their neighbors and the barn was set on fire. In May 1942, non-Jewish residents of the town Gniewczyna Łańcucka held hostage some two to three dozen local Jews. Over the course of several days, they tortured and raped their hostages before finally murdering them The Polish Center for Holocaust Research in Warsaw estimates that as many as 200,000 Jews died at the hands of Poles, or because Poles identified them as Jewish to the Nazis, during the war.

On the other hand, the Polish Government in exile tried to help the Jews in their country, the were also one of the first to warn the world of Hitler’s Final Solution. But to say Poland was blameless is absurd as saying all Poles were collaborators. But the controversy over the law and the history of Poland is increasing hatred of Jews in the country.

“Amid Israeli criticism, a prominent Polish right-wing commentator used an offensive slur to refer to Jews. Rather than being punished, he was welcomed on TV programs, including a state television talk show where he and the host made anti-Jewish comments, including jokes about Jews and gas chambers.

“The negative comments just kept on coming. A Catholic priest said on state TV that it was hard to like Jews, and his words were then quoted by the ruling party spokeswoman. An adviser to the president said he thought Israel’s negative reaction to the law stemmed from a ‘feeling of shame at the passivity of the Jews during the Holocaust’.” 

Which sounds much like what the Polish leader said in Munich.

An unspoken part of the controversy over the Holocaust law and he prime minister’s statement is that anti-Semitism has been part of Polish culture since the Holocaust. 

Per a report by David Engel and published by Yadvashem.org, “Jews had been subjected to deadly violence at Polish hands almost continuously (albeit with fluctuating intensity) ever since the first postwar Polish territories were wrested from the Nazi occupiers. … The hostile climate of feeling toward Jews in Poland following the liberation was, in short, so highly volatile and was fed by such a variety of motives that violent anti- Jewish attacks could break out virtually any place, at any time, under any conditions, and with no provocation whatsoever.”

March 1968 student-led demonstrations in Warsaw motived the Communist government to use the situation as a pretext to launch an anti-Semitic press campaign which was labeled as anti-Zionist. This state-sponsored “anti-Zionist” campaign resulted in the removal of Jews from the Polish United Worker’s Party and from teaching positions in schools and universities. In the end, up with 20,000 Jews forced to relinquish their possessions and their Polish citizenship and flee the country.

And the hatred remains. According to a 2015 survey by the ADL, thirty-seven percent of Poles have anti-Semitic attitudes. The way one was placed in that 37 percent is answering probably true to the majority of these questions:

1. Jews are more loyal to Israel than to [this country/to the countries they live in]

2. Jews have too much power in the business world

3. Jews have too much power in international financial markets

4. Jews still talk too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust

5. Jews don’t care what happens to anyone but their own kind

6. Jews have too much control over global affairs

7. Jews have too much control over the United States government

8. Jews think they are better than other people

9. Jews have too much control over the global media

10. Jews are responsible for most of the world’s wars

11. People hate Jews because of the way Jews behave

Prior to the Shoah, Poland was an oasis for Jews in Europe, except for the times the country were taken over by anti-Semitic Russia, Poland was a nation where Jewish people, learning, and culture thrived, and were accepted by the non-Jewish population.

The UK Daily mail reports Polish commentators are suggesting “that opposition to the Holocaust law was a cover for Jews wanting money from Poland, a reference to reparations that international Jewish organizations seek for prewar Jewish property seized by the communists.”

“Anna Chipczynska, the head of Warsaw’s Jewish community, said members feel psychologically shaken or even depressed, and that the hostile rhetoric has triggered hateful phone calls and emails and other harassment.

“In recent events, two men tried to urinate in front of Warsaw’s historic Nozyk Synagogue, and then shouted obscenities when security guards intervened. One Jewish community member found a Star of David hanging from gallows spray-painted outside a window of his apartment. A woman found the word Zyd (Polish for Jew) written in the snow outside her home.”

Beginning with the Holocaust attitudes toward Jews by the rest of the Polish population deteriorated to the point where even with the Nazi’s gone, even with the communists gone, almost 40% of Poles have anti-Semitic beliefs.

The Polish Government claims their Holocaust law is not an example of holocaust revisionism, nor is it anti-Semitic. The government has also defended its Prime Minister’s comments, saying he did not intend to deny the Holocaust nor allege that Jewish victims bore responsibility for “Nazi German-perpetrated genocide.”

It’s time for the Polish Government to face the reality that the law and the premiere’s statement are based in the country’s anti-Semitism. And after a millennium of being an oasis for Jews in Europe, Poland is just another Jew-hating country.