The History of the Holocaust Requires Open Conversation

A bill recently passed by Poland’s legislature forbids the use of the term “Polish death camps” to refer to the extermination camps established by the Nazis within the country’s borders, and more vaguely forbids any assignation of guilt for the Holocaust to “the Polish nation or the Polish state.” Putting the law in the context of recent East European history, Ben Cohen points to the corrupt impulse behind it:

[I]n the nations that were until 1989 under the boot of the Soviet Union, like Poland, . . . “Holocaust education” for decades consisted of lies, distortions, and shameful cover-ups. It began with the Soviets [themselves], for whom there was no ideological or political room for something called the “Holocaust” in their account of the “Great Patriotic War,” [as they called World War II]. . . .

But just as the Communists sought to undermine this core truth at every turn, so do today’s ultranationalists. It’s not just Poland, after all. Croatia, Hungary, Slovakia, and Latvia are just a handful of the other European countries where similarly ugly disputes have arisen, always involving ultranationalist political leaders promoting the deceitful rewriting of history. In all these cases, the end has been the same: to portray the occupied non-Jewish populations as facing exactly the same trials and perils as their Jewish neighbors, and thereby to launder their own soiled records of past Nazi associations. . . .

If the Polish government’s goal were simply to encourage greater awareness and education about Polish suffering under the Nazis, that would be laudable. But by tying that aspect of Nazi rule so explicitly to the mass enslavement and extermination of the Jews, and by willfully misrepresenting documented evidence of Polish anti-Semitism and collaboration with the Nazis as a slander upon the Polish nation as a whole, they are engineering their own deserved failure, to the detriment of Poland’s people.

Instead of enlightening the world about how the Soviets and the Nazis collaborated to crush the Polish national movement—and why that matters especially today—Poland’s leaders are disgracing themselves by uncomplicatedly assigning three million Holocaust victims murdered because they were Jews to the general record of Polish wartime suffering. You’d have thought that the Soviet Union was the last country they would want to emulate.

Read more at JNS

More about: Eastern Europe, History & Ideas, Holocaust, Poland, Soviet Union

On Thanksgiving, Remember the Exodus from Egypt

Nov. 27 2020

When asked to design a Great Seal of the United States, Benjamin Franklin proposed a depiction of Moses at the splitting of the Sea of Reeds, while Thomas Jefferson suggested the children of Israel in the wilderness after departing Egypt. These proposals, writes Ed Simon, tapped into a venerable American tradition:

The Puritans from whom Franklin descended had been comparing their own arrival in the New World with the story of Exodus for more than a century. They were inheritors of a profoundly Judaic vision, melding the stories of the Hebrew scripture with their own narratives and experiences. . . .

For the Puritans, Exodus was arguably a model for understanding their own lives and history in a manner more all-encompassing and totalizing than for any other historical religious group, with the obvious exception of the Jews. . . . American Puritans and pilgrims like John Mather, John Winthrop, John Cotton, . . . and many others placed the Exodus at the center of their vision, seeing their own fleeing from an oppressive England and a Europe wracked by the Thirty Years’ War to an American “Errand Into the Wilderness” as a modern version of the Israelites’ escape into Canaan. . . . [Thus the] Exodus . . . has become indispensable in comprehending the wider American experience. Through the Puritans, the story of Exodus became a motivating script for all manner of American stories. . . .

We read its significance and prophetic power in accounts of slaves who escaped the cruelty of antebellum plantation servitude, and who crossed the Ohio River as if it were the Sea of Reeds. . . . We see it in photographs of the oppressed escaping pogroms and persecution in the Old World, and in the stories of later generations of refugees. Exodus is an indispensably Jewish story, but what more appropriate day than Thanksgiving, this most American and Puritan (and “Jewish”?) of holidays, to consider the role that that particular biblical narrative has had in defining America’s civil religion?

Read more at Tablet

More about: American founding, American Religion, Exodus, History & Ideas, Thanksgiving, Thomas Jefferson