A good look at Poland

Scholars work to understand the role Poland played in the Holocaust, but its role before the Nazis and in the present is clear. Op-ed..

David Billet ,

Jewish cemetery in Krakow, Poland
Jewish cemetery in Krakow, Poland
Yossi Zeliger/Flash90
While some forms of anti-Semitism are more challenging to identify, others are as clear as day. The Polish government has proven that they are just as anti-Semitic as they were when my grandparents were forcibly placed in a slave labor camp during World War II.

Poland’s Parliament recently passed a law that effectively bars all Holocaust survivors, and their descendants, from recovering property that was illegitimately taken during WWII. Imagine, it’s not enough that almost three million Polish Jews were killed in the Holocaust by the Nazis, who built their most infamous concentration camps on conquered Polish soil, now they also want to legitimatize the stealing of their property?

It is estimated that approximately 90% of the 3.3 million Jews that were living in Poland were murdered during the Holocaust, thereby ensuring that their property was left behind for others to claim.

A brief walk down memory lane can prove the absurdity of this law, and how it is merely the expression of age-old Polish anti-Semitism coming to life in society today.

Firstly, the Polish police played a pivotal role in supporting the Nazis during the Holocaust. The Polish police force was known as the “Blue Police” and ensured that all Jews lived in ghettos, were beaten when failing to comply with Nazi dictates, and were repressed when attempting to fight for their freedom.

It has become widely recognized that the police were comprised of the pre-war Polish police force, and that if a Jew was caught by the Polish police, they would almost certainly be killed.

Furthermore, acting against extreme pressure from the Polish political class, a variety of scholars and historians have worked to understand the role that Poland played in the Holocaust. Jan Tomasz Gross, a leading Polish American historian, has stated that the Poles had killed more Jews than the Germans during WWII, which led to his condemnation by many Polish political leaders.

Mr. Gross also stated an example of Polish anti-Semitism by discussing how on one occasion half of the residents of a village simply murdered the other half, who were Jewish, leading to the death of sixteen hundred Jews. Another leading Holocaust historian, Barbara Engelking, uncovered testimony that the prewar mayor of a Polish town led the Nazis to Jews who were hiding in a forest, which led to the death of twenty-two. These are only a few examples of the explosive anti-Semitism that led to the extermination of Polish Jewry.

History will never forget the role that Poland, although an enemy of the Nazis whose population was also murdered and enslaved, played in ensuring that the soil of Europe will forever be stained with the blood of the Jews.

Only twenty years after Jews were literally murdered in gas chambers during the Holocaust, the Polish communist party declared in 1968 that all Jews were the enemy of the state. This has become known as an anti-Semitic purge and forced approximately 20,000 Jews to flee Poland in only four years. Mass demonstrations were also held against Jewish officials, who were often accused of dual loyalty to Israel and were blamed for many of the country’s issues.

If we fast forward to today, Poland is seen as one of the most anti-Semitic countries in Europe. In a recent survey by the Anti-Defamation League, almost 50% of Poles supported anti-Semitic views and 74% of the survey respondents stated that the Jews discuss the Holocaust too often. In 2019, Poland’s parliament passed a law that made it a crime to state that Poland was complicit in the Holocaust.

The Israeli government, and all Jews around the world, must not cower in fear in the face of another political leader who relentlessly attacks our people. Anti-Semitism is a disease that only grows more rampant when fed, and we must not feed the anti-Semitism that has proven to pervade Poland’s political class.

Rather than visiting the concentration camps and supporting the economy of a country that despises our people, we must instead focus on supporting Israel, touring Yad VaShem, and educating ourselves in Jewish history. As the generation of Holocaust survivors is slowly coming to an end, it has become more crucial than ever before for Holocaust education to become a focal point of all educational institutions.

While historians often argue that anti-Semitism mutates in every generation, it seems, sadly, that Polish anti-Semitism remains basically unchanged after all these years.

David Billet is a student at Fordham University School of Law and has a Bachelor of Arts in Accounting from Queens College, CUNY. As a hobby, he writes articles on the current political landscape, public policy and anti-Semitism. To date, he has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Times of Israel and almost twenty other media publications.