The Legacy of Poland’s Post-War Holocaust Justice

April 19 2021

In the ten years following the end of World War II, special Polish courts tried over 30,000 suspected collaborators with the Nazis. Because of the timing of the decree creating these courts, these proceedings are known as the August trials, which is also the title of a new book about them by Andrew Kornbluth. Konstanty Gebert writes in his review:

Poland was the only country in Nazi-occupied Europe not to have had a Quisling administration collaborating with the occupiers: the Germans, simultaneously determined to crush the country’s national will and contemptuous of Polish “sub-humans,” refused to allow one to be set up. Yet the country had no shortage of individual and institutional collaborators against whom post-war charges could be brought. Overall, those accused in the August trials were found guilty in approximately half of the cases. In cases where the victims happened to be Jewish, though, that rate fell to 14 percent. This was true even though crimes against Jews had been mostly more serious than those against non-Jews.

Kornbluth is excellent in dissecting the complex dynamics among the Soviet-imposed post-war regime, the judiciary (largely composed of pre-war and anti-Communist judges), and the post-war Polish population. Contrary to accepted myths, he does not find that the judiciary was necessarily following the Soviet-backed Communist regime’s orders.

Jewish victims often could not testify, for they were either dead or had fled, while those who did survive and remained were most often too terrified to testify against Poles. Even Poles who had saved Jews asked them after the war to keep this heroism secret, out of fear of retaliation.

Kornbluth shows brilliantly how, when those actually found guilty and sentenced for crimes against Jews challenged the verdicts, the description of facts would be totally changed between the original trial and the appeals trial, exonerating the perpetrators and strengthening the legend of Polish innocence. Sentences were reduced, amnesties applied. In a final, particularly obscene gesture, Polish courts after 1989 rehabilitated some perpetrators of crimes against Jews, designating those crimes as “acts done in the defense of Poland’s independence.”

Read more at Moment

More about: Anti-Semitism, Communism, Holocaust, Poland

Syria’s Druze Uprising, and What It Means for the Region

When the Arab Spring came to Syria in 2011, the Druze for the most part remained loyal to the regime—which has generally depended on the support of religious minorities such as the Druze and thus afforded them a modicum of protection. But in the past several weeks that has changed, with sustained anti-government protests in the Druze-dominated southwestern province of Suwayda. Ehud Yaari evaluates the implications of this shift:

The disillusionment of the Druze with Bashar al-Assad, their suspicion of militias backed by Iran and Hizballah on the outskirts of their region, and growing economic hardships are fanning the flames of revolt. In Syrian Druze circles, there is now open discussion of “self-rule,” for example replacing government offices and services with local Druze alternative bodies.

Is there a politically acceptable way to assist the Druze and prevent the regime from the violent reoccupation of Jebel al-Druze, [as they call the area in which they live]? The answer is yes. It would require Jordan to open a short humanitarian corridor through the village of al-Anat, the southernmost point of the Druze community, less than three kilometers from the Syrian-Jordanian border.

Setting up a corridor to the Druze would require a broad consensus among Western and Gulf Arab states, which have currently suspended the process of normalization with Assad. . . . The cost of such an operation would not be high compared to the humanitarian corridors currently operating in northern Syria. It could be developed in stages, and perhaps ultimately include, if necessary, providing the Druze with weapons to defend their territory. A quick reminder: during the Islamic State attack on Suwayda province in 2018, the Druze demonstrated an ability to assemble close to 50,000 militia men almost overnight.

Read more at Jerusalem Strategic Tribune

More about: Druze, Iran, Israeli Security, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy