Setting the Record Straight on Poland and the Holocaust

Poland’s president recently signed legislation that forbids citizens from “publicly and untruthfully assign[ing] responsibility or co-responsibility to the Polish nation or the Polish state for Nazi crimes,” sparking much conversation about the Polish role in the Holocaust. Certainly, writes Edna Friedberg, the phrase “Polish death camps”—specifically proscribed by the new law—is highly misleading. Yet absolving the Poles entirely of “co-responsibility” is equally unfaithful to history:

A clear-eyed look at the facts demonstrates that the record of Christian Poles, amid the German occupation and the crimes of the Holocaust perpetrated in their country, is not uniformly one either of complicity or of innocence. Poland was the victim of German aggression, suffering one of the most brutal occupation regimes among countries in the Nazi orbit. Despite severe penalties [for rescuing Jews], more Christian Poles have been recognized as Righteous among the Nations—those who risked their lives to aid Jews—than citizens of any other country in Europe. But many others supported and enabled Germany in its campaign to exterminate the Jews. . . .

The Nazis viewed Poles as racially inferior and deliberately targeted Poland’s leadership for destruction, killing tens of thousands of Catholic priests, intellectuals, teachers, and political leaders. . . . At least 1.5 million Poles were deported to Germany as slave laborers in support of the war effort, and hundreds of thousands of others were incarcerated in concentration camps. . . .

As German authorities implemented killing on an industrial scale, they drew upon Polish police forces and railroad personnel for logistical support, notably to guard ghettos where hundreds of thousands of Jewish men, women, and children were held before deportation to killing centers. . . . Individual Poles also often helped in the identification, denunciation, and exposure of Jews in hiding, sometimes motivated by greed and the opportunities presented by blackmail and the plunder of Jewish-owned property. . . . There are, [in addition], well-documented incidents, particularly in the small towns of eastern Poland, where locals—acutely aware of the Nazis’ presence and emboldened by their anti-Semitic policies—carried out violent riots and murdered their Jewish neighbors. . . .

In contrast, the Polish Government in Exile based in London sponsored resistance to the German occupation, including [efforts] to help Jews in their native land. Jan Karski, who acted as an emissary between the Polish underground and the government in exile, was one of the first to deliver eyewitness accounts of the Holocaust to Allied leaders like President Franklin Roosevelt in the hope of spurring rescue. . . . On the ground in occupied Poland, the Zegota group (the clandestine Council to Aid Jews) saved several thousand people by supplying false papers and organizing hiding places or escape routes.

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More about: History & Ideas, Holocaust, Nazis, Poland, Polish Jewry, Righteous Among the Nations

For Israelis, Anti-Zionism Kills

Dec. 14 2018

This week alone, anti-Zionists have killed multiple Israelis in a series of attacks; these follow the revelations that Hizballah succeeded in digging multiple attack tunnels from Lebanon into northern Israel. Simultaneously, some recent news stories in the U.S. have occasioned pious reminders that anti-Zionism should not be conflated with anti-Semitism. Bret Stephens notes that it is anti-Zionists, not defenders of Israel, who do the most to blur that distinction:

Israelis experience anti-Zionism in a different way from, say, readers of the New York Review of Books: not as a bold sally in the world of ideas, but as a looming menace to their earthly existence, held at bay only through force of arms. . . . Anti-Zionism might have been a respectable point of view before 1948, when the question of Israel’s existence was in the future and up for debate. Today, anti-Zionism is a call for the elimination of a state—details to follow regarding the fate befalling those who currently live in it. . . .

Anti-Zionism is ideologically unique in insisting that one state, and one state only, doesn’t just have to change. It has to go. By a coincidence that its adherents insist is entirely innocent, this happens to be the Jewish state, making anti-Zionists either the most disingenuous of ideologues or the most obtuse. When then-CNN contributor Marc Lamont Hill called last month for a “free Palestine from the river to the sea” and later claimed to be ignorant of what the slogan really meant, it was hard to tell in which category he fell.

Does this make someone with Hill’s views an anti-Semite? It’s like asking whether a person who believes in [the principle of] separate-but-equal must necessarily be a racist. In theory, no. In reality, another story. The typical aim of the anti-Semite is legal or social discrimination against some set of Jews. The explicit aim of the anti-Zionist is political or physical dispossession.

What’s worse: to be denied membership in a country club because you’re Jewish, or driven from your ancestral homeland and sovereign state for the same reason? If anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are meaningfully distinct (I think they are not), the human consequences of the latter are direr.

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More about: Anti-Semitism, Anti-Zionism, Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Palestinian terror