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

What Egypt’s Withdrawal from the “Arab NATO” Signifies for U.S. Strategy

A few weeks ago, Egypt quietly announced its withdrawal from the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA), a coalition—which also includes Jordan, the Gulf states, and the U.S.—founded at President Trump’s urging to serve as an “Arab NATO” that could work to contain Iran. Jonathan Ariel notes three major factors that most likely contributed to Egyptian President Sisi’s abandonment of MESA: his distrust of Donald Trump (and concern that Trump might lose the 2020 election) and of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman; Cairo’s perception that Iran does not pose a major threat to its security; and the current situation in Gaza:

Gaza . . . is ruled by Hamas, defined by its covenant as “one of the wings of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine.” Sisi has ruthlessly persecuted the Brotherhood in Egypt. [But] Egypt, despite its dependence on Saudi largesse, has continued to maintain its ties with Qatar, which is under Saudi blockade over its unwillingness to toe the Saudi line regarding Iran. . . . Qatar is also supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood, . . . and of course Hamas.

[Qatar’s ruler] Sheikh Tamim is one of the key “go-to guys” when the situation in Gaza gets out of hand. Qatar has provided the cash that keeps Hamas solvent, and therefore at least somewhat restrained. . . . In return, Hamas listens to Qatar, which does not want it to help the Islamic State-affiliated factions involved in an armed insurrection against Egyptian forces in northern Sinai. Egypt’s military is having a hard enough time coping with the insurgency as it is. The last thing it needs is for Hamas to be given a green light to cooperate with Islamic State forces in Sinai. . . .

Over the past decade, ever since Benjamin Netanyahu returned to power, Israel has also been gradually placing more and more chips in its still covert but growing alliance with Saudi Arabia. Egypt’s decision to pull out of MESA should give it cause to reconsider. Without Egypt, MESA has zero viability unless it is to include either U.S. forces or Israeli ones. [But] one’s chances of winning the lottery seem infinitely higher than those of MESA’s including the IDF. . . . Given that Egypt, the Arab world’s biggest and militarily most powerful state and its traditional leader, has clearly indicated its lack of confidence in the Saudi leadership, Israel should urgently reexamine its strategy in this regard.

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More about: Egypt, Gaza Strip, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy