Polish complicity in distorting the truth
Polish complicity in distorting the truth

My mother’s family is from Krakow. Since my childhood, following my mom’s attitude to life, I read and speak Polish, and am fully au courant with Polish history, culture and traditions. My husband’s family on his father’s side is from Poland too, and the same can be said of him.

We have many friends in Poland and visited the country many times. Our knowledge includes both positive and negative facts, phenomena and threads throughout Polish history. We are not acting on prejudice. We just refuse to be blind.   

The current move of the Polish Sejm to pass the new law banning the mentioning the word ‘Polish’ regarding complicities in Nazi crimes during the Second World War and the Holocaust is nothing short of an Inquisition. Its efforts to control life are characterized by the same zealotry and the same conscious efforts to impose the orchestrated, distorted picture of reality and history upon people, society and the world.

It is arrogant and blatantly false - and they know perfectly well that they are imposing lies. It is really too much, Poland, telling us what to call your far too many accomplices to the annihilation of Jewish people during WWII, and your threatening everyone, even beyond the Polish borders, with fines and up to three years’ imprisonment.

At the same time, it is also utterly pathetic to see such provincialism and short-sighted views. It is the worst of Poland, and its people will soon be made aware of what the world thinks of their ugly medieval exercises.

How it was to be a saviour of Jews in post-war Poland?

I have an ongoing project from my Outreach to Humanity series, called Shining Souls. Champions of Humanity. In this project, I pay respect to both Jewish victims of Holocaust and their non-Jewish saviours and defenders. The project was inaugurated at the European Parliament in January 2017 and was dedicated to the memory of Elie Wiesel.

This year, its new Helsinki Edition is on display at the Library of the Parliament of Finland. In both cases, the special exhibitions and events around it are parts of the official commemorations of the International Holocaust Remembrance Days in 2017 and 2018.

The project involves much historical research. While working on it, I noticed the very high proportion of Polish heroes among the people present there, about a third. And I am proud of it, and of those great people, real heroes.

I make the distinction between the real Polish heroes and the others, as well as the arrogant and ignorant lawmakers of today in Poland who have brought nothing but shame onto their country.  

The high number of Polish heroes in my project corresponds to the number of Righteous Among the Nations recognized by Yad Vashem. According to Yad Vashem, among  26 513 people from 50 countries recognized officially by the institution as Righteous Among the Nations, 6 706 are Poles, which is 25,2%. The number of Poles in this honourable list is the highest of any country in the world. Poland is a large country and had a population of 3 millioin Jews.

During my work on the Champions of Humanity project I came to see several important tendencies in the process of applied humanism, so to speak, as related to the Holocaust, after its end and thereafter. One of the tendencies has to do with Poland in particular.

For those real heroes who did save and did help Jews during the war, it was difficult to live in their country after it was over.

To name a few, Zofia Kossak-Szuszcka had to leave Poland for a while to avoid punishment for her heroism against the communist Polish authorities;

Irena Sendler lived absolutely quietly in complete obscurity until two American teenagers wrote an essay about her role during the Holocaust as late, as 1999, - not to mention that she was arrested and tortured by the Polish authorities in 1948, and despite the fact that recognition of her role by Israel had occurred as early, as in 1965.

In the post-war atmosphere and thereafter, Poland prevented Andrzej Wajda from making his film on Doctor Korczak until 1990.

It was not until almost 40 years had elapsed from the end of the WWII that Polish authorities opened Pharmacy Under Eagle in Krakow, a small museum recognising the heroism of Tadeusz Pankiewiecz and his colleagues during the Holocaust.    

Anyone who ideals with the post-WWII history in Poland knows in depressing detail how punishable it was to be a saviour of Jews during the Holocaust, how badly those heroic people were treated, how totally silent they had to be about their brave stand during the war. And this was the case not just with regard to the communist authorities of Poland, it was the case with regard to a wide public. Unbelievable - especially given the fact that 90% of the Jews of Poland were exterminated during the Holocaust, often with the direct involvement and complicity of the local population, 90% of the Jews of Poland were exterminated during the Holocaust, often with the direct involvement and complicity of the local population, whether or not legislators in today's Poland want to hear about it.   
whether or not legislators in today's Poland want to hear about it.   

We also know how hostile many Polish people were towards those very few Jews who decided to return to their homes after surviving the Holocaust. They had seized the Jewish houses and apartments, grabbed Jewish belongings and property, and the last thing they wanted was to give it back. The atmosphere of hatred and more hatred cruelly suffocated the people who did survive Holocaust by a miracle.

Today, I would like to ask all those delusional, in the best case, Polish legislators who voted for the scandalous law banning the world from calling things by their real names as long, as Poland during the WWII is involved: Just how many Jews were murdered by Poles after May 1945?

The community of international historians estimates the figure as between one and two thousand people, victims of the Poles, after WWII, in Poland, with several different historians agreeing that the figure is far from being precise due to the fact that during the period of time from May 1945 until the end of 1948, the crimes committed by Poles against Jews in Poland were recorded very selectively and prosecuted even more selectively, according to the Yad Vashem studies ( Anti-Jewish Violence in Poland After Liberation, Yad Vashem International School for Holocaust Studies).

We also know how families of the descendants of the Polish Jews who perished during Holocaust were treated in Poland at any time throughout 1990s and 2000s when they were visiting the places where their parents and grandparents had lived. In my records, there are many stories with similar content in which the local people in Poland were both hostile and afraid at seeing Jews approaching ‘their’ houses. Not all of them, but a prevailing number.

Do the Polish legislators today believe, for some reason, that all those people all around the world whose families were annihilated in Poland during Holocaust, are stupid, and do not know who did what during that time? 

What was Polish anti-Semitism like at the end of the 1960s and thereafter?

My students are always hugely surprised at one point, every year - it is when I tell them of the vile anti-Semitism in Poland which swept the country in the late1960s and thereafter.

“How come? - they ask. - In Poland, after the war, just 10% of the Jewish population was left alive, 38.000 people out of 3.47 million before the war. After the war, another 160 000 Polish Jews were returned to Poland from the territory of the USSR, and 20-40 000 Jews came there from Germany. Three quarters of those people moved to Israel immediately in the period between 1945 and 1948 precisely because of the outburst of brutal anti-Jewish Polish violence in Poland.

There were approximately 40 000 Jews left in Poland from 1950s onward, most of whom concealed their Jewish origin, a phenomenon widely known to everyone in Poland. And then in 1968, new anti-Jewish hysteria burst out - so mightily, so widely spread and so violent that without any Nazis around, more than 90% of those poor 40.000 had to flee their homes and their country. How is it humanly possible? “ my students ask me repeatedly. And I reply: “Humanly it is impossible. But inhumanly it is and was.”

Very soon, in March 2018, the POLIN Museum of History of Polish Jews will be holding a big commemorative international conference on another dark period in Polish history, on their attitude to Jews who did not invade or infiltate into Poland, but who had been living in the country for over one thousand years, enriching Poland culturally and scientifically. But the legislators sitting in the Polish Sejm and its Senate today seem to never hear about anything like that. Inquisitors usually are too busy with their delusions to attend to the realities.    

Who Are You? - From the Polish anti-Semite's perspective

We all know outrageous stories, many of them happened to us personally, in Poland, in the local desperate effort to suppress the truth about WWII and the Holocaust there.

We once took part in a most macabre private guided tour at  Auschwitz back in mid-1990s led by a famed Polish historian who simply tried to avoid the barracks where the Jews were imprisoned and who tried to drop anything related to anything Jewish - in Auschwitz! - while emphasising time and again the 3 000 Polish martyrs murdered there and focusing exclusively on Polish suffering.

We were interested in letting him finish his narration, after which we provided him with a barrage of questions. We were speaking with a enowned academician, after all. He had become nervous and asked us non-stop:”But who are you? Who are you?” - “Just human-beings” - said my husband to him very calmly. 

I had another memorable “Who are you?” encounter there in Poland, a decade later than that first one, this time in the Polish Sejm where I was the invited speaker at the both Houses' joint special seminar on modern history. At the ceremonial dinner, in far less formal millieu, after quite a few vodkas were washed down by the hosts, they started to speak in Polish among themselves about the recently published book by Jan Gross, Neighbours. The book’s sub-headline is The Destruction of the Polish Community in Jedwabne.

My hosts, led by the former Defence Minister Macierewicz, did not realize that I understand Polish perfectly well - something of which I had had to remind them, with the discussion about the animalistic pogrom in Jedwabne around our festive table getting into its international dimension.

Pan Macierewicz’s line was surprisingly banal, I must say: he just blatantly insisted that there was no such thing as a Polish massacre in Jedwabne, and that Professor Gross is ‘an especially evil person, you know.” When Pan Macierewicz was told that he was trying to put over his silly propaganda on a Jewish person, he came close to having an apoplectic attack. And he had to add a small, abridged, factual lesson on the Jedwabne massacre to the hearing, suffering visibly for the sake of international co-operation.         

The current tendencies: aggressive falsehood and arrogant distortion of history

From the last elections in the Autumn 2015 onward, the effort to distort Polish history has accelerated dramatically.  The outlines were implemented fiercely by the Polish government, which has been renewed recently, but the change did not affect the efforts to impose the orchestrated version of history and to do it forcibly.

There are far too many episodes which occurred in Poland during the last few years, profoundly tarnishing the image and reputation of the country. Because lies, conscious and arrogant lies, always achieve just that - a ruined reputation.

We are witness to a very unbalanced, inflamed and pushy agenda putting forward the theme of the Poles who saved Jews during the Holocaust, making all of them super-heroes and super-martyrs, - although, there is very rich documentation in Polish archives that many of those people to whom Polish Jews turned for help did so for money, and very often deceived the victims, taking their money and belongings and denouncing them to Germans to get yet another bit of money. Now, the Museums designed to portray the super and ultimate heroism of the Polish people who saved Jews are mushrooming, including a new one to be established inside Auschwitz. The history told in those new pro-Polish glory museums is unbalanced, skewed and one-sided.

We are witness to appalling treatment by Polish authorities of international authorities on the history of the Holocaust and post-Holocaust in Poland - such as American and Canadian professors Jan Tomasz Gross and Jan Grabowski, who are constantly threatened, defamed, questioned by the Polish police, prosecutors, and investigative authorities, and even threatened with their lives. If the people witch-hunting them and their colleagues would read, they might find a lot of answers in their domestic Polish archives, if those archives have not been altered, or even destroyed, as many Polish historians are afraid will occur, expecting  anything from the current authorities and their too eager representatives.

We are witness to another historian of international reputation, Professor Machcewicz, fleeing from his country and seeking work abroad for his decent and objective narrative of the Second World War history in the new Gdansk Museum, with all his team dissolved by the Polish authorities. Now the narrative of the main exhibition of the important museum is being suppressed and is in the process of being changed by the newly imposed team.

It is in that Gdansk museum that people struggle  in total darkness around a Deutsche Bahn cattle wagon. They are unable to read important historic notes next to that symbolic exhibit - as the current leadership of the museum gave an order to switch the lights off. Simple and efficient. In the same museum, the first three rooms that set out the whole narrative in a balanced and objective way, have been simply sealed off. Nothing is changed there as yet; it is just closed to visitors. The whole museum is quietly being altered by those small details, making the top-class exposition very much DDR-like.

We have seen how the Polish state and its cultural institutions financed outrageous, consistent mocking of the Holocaust by a group of so-called ‘artists’ who produced the most repulsive installations and videos, openly laughing at the Holocaust and its victims, holding outrageous exhibitions, and pretending it all is in the name of ‘freedom of expression’. If somebody would dare to do the same on the theme of Catholicism, the outcry would be unbounded.

We are witness to such outrages as efforts by certain Polish officials to go on with exhumation at the place of the Jedwabne massacre, in order to prove that the Jewish people killed there died from German bullets, - knowing perfectly well not only the extremely well documented history of that massacre and the role in it of the local Polish population, but also the fact that exhumation is categorically forbidden by Jewish law. Respect? The people ruling Poland today with the super-zealotry of the Inquisition, have no clue as to what the word means.

We are witness today to a new Polish law on restitution which is yet another mockery and which practically and blatantly deprives the families of the Jewish victims of the Holocaust adequate compensation. And we are talking about it 74 years after the end of the war.

We are witness today to the burning of an effigy of a Jew in the front of a mass rally in Wroclaw, a city that happened to be a culture capital of Europe at the time of the event. Yes, the man who did it has been investigated and sentenced. To three months of imprisonment - after he successfully appealed his previous 10- month sentence. This is Poland today, make no mistake.

We are witness to the head of the Polish Tourist Agency taking Auschwitz and Jewish museums off the official program for visits by foreign journalists, while making the public comment that “Poland has nothing to do with suffering of strangers in our country”.That person was sacked from his position after an international outcry, but the fact is that it happened when he was the highest Polish governmental official responsible for tourism in the country.    

We are witness to the ugliest Nazi celebration by Polish youth today, filmed and demonstrated widely, with them being arrested after the recording was made public. But again, the fact is that this is what is happening in Poland today. Local Nazis, sorry, Polish legislators, you have them and you cannot deny it.

The Polish public also seems to have no shame. The official website of Polish National Radio, on January 28. 2017, shared somebody's opinion that if one speaks in favor of Israel in what they call the recent 'Polish Death Camps' scandal, then s/he should consider renouncing Polish citizenship.

And new Polish Prime-Minister Mateucz Morawiecki had the audacity to do two stunning things in connection with International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2018: he tweeted that ‘Auschwitz-Birkenau is not a Polish name’; and he said that the new exhibition at Yad Vashem of 15 000 photos of the Holocaust , many of them taken secretly in the various Jewish Ghettos in Poland, is ‘dedicated to Poland’. The degree of some people’s arrogance just cannot be over-estimated. But why on earth does the rest of the world swallow these numerous Polish exercises, one after another? Well, we do not. And we will not, for the record.  

The new Law and the Truth  

There should be no mistake regarding the new law passed by the Polish Sejm banning naming the German concentration camps on Polish territory as  Polish ones. That is true, but the law goes far beyond that. It aims to ban, under the threat of various penalties and up to three years imprisonment, for anyone, whether it be Polish citizen or foreigner, to name Poles as accomplices of Nazi crimes during the Second World War and Holocaust.

Let’s be crystal clear on that: yes, the concentration and extermination camps on occupied Polish territory were the German operation of the Nazi regime. Poland as a state can apply to the international community with an appeal to correct the terminology. It would be a perfectly logical thing to do.

But the rest of the law has nothing to do with terminology. It has everything to do with heavy censorship and is a crusade against the truth. Who were the local people who so enthusiastically and in such numbers denounced Jews to the Germans? Who were those locals who were documented robbing and raping Jews, killing them, burning them alive? Who were those who got into Treblinka and the other places of the German extermination of Jews and seen shamelessly digging in the places of mass murder in order to find golden teeth? Have not you seen the photographs of just that, with no single German around, Polish legislators from the Sejm? But now, those photos and the other documents which tell the unpleasant - for some inflamed politicians - truth about the Polish complicities during the Holocaust are questioned and blatantly declared ‘fabricated.’ A travesty of the truth.

The role of the Institute of the Polish National Memory in this repulsive crusade against the truth is a substantial and alarming one.

In fact, the new law passed by the Polish Sejm in its defiant character aims not to preserve the good name of the country.  This new legislation aims to stop historians, writers, documentarists, students, and any other members of the public from both Poland and the international community from their quest to research the role of Poles and Poland in the Nazi atrocities - and their own independent atrocities, that occurred in fact - during the Second World War and the Holocaust. This is conscious attempt to distort the facts and the history of the Second World War and the Holocaust, and is the act of official whitewashing and distortion of history.  

The fact that the Polish Sejm has chosen to pass this scandalous law on International Holocaust Remembrance Day has placed Poland and its current legislators in the rank of most shameless revisionists of history.  

But one just cannot help seeing that the current legislators of Poland in their frantic efforts to re-write history are utterly pathetic. If they believe that the rest of the world will follow and start to call black white because it is Polish, they will be isolated from the civilzsed international community much faster than they can imagine.

How about boycotting the country that boycotts the truth? Current Poland has asked for that.

Dr Inna Rogatchi is writer, historian and film-maker, the author of the internationally acclaimed The Lessons of Survival film on Simon Wiesenthal. Her forthcoming book is A View From a Cattle Wagon, collection of essays on post-Holocaust ( 2018). She is a co-founder and president of The Rogatchi Foundation.