While in Poland last week for the international conference on Middle Eastern security, Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a speech at the Warsaw Museum of the History of Polish Jews. Responding to a question from a journalist, he stated that “Poles had cooperated with the Nazis; . . . there is no argument about this.” The Polish government responded in pique, declaring that its foreign minister, rather than its president, would now be attending the Visegrad summit scheduled to begin in Jerusalem on Monday. But then Israel’s newly appointed foreign minister, in an interview with Israeli television, quoted the former prime minister Yitzḥak Shamir’s inflammatory comment that Poles “imbibe anti-Semitism with their mothers’ milk.” Now the summit has been called off altogether. The editors of the Jerusalem Post comment:
These [diplomatic] crises will continue so long as Poland’s government insists on whitewashing history. . . . The state-run Auschwitz Museum, for example, recently tweeted that,“talking about complicity between the [Nazi] occupiers and local civilian population in the history of Auschwitz is false,” despite massive evidence to the contrary in Poland and other Nazi-occupied lands.
Warsaw would do better if it stopped trying to cover up the role of many Poles in aiding the Nazis in their plot to exterminate the Jewish people. Over 90 percent of Polish Jews perished in the Holocaust. . . . The historian Jan Grabowski found that two of three Jews who asked Polish Gentiles for refuge were murdered, and that Polish [collaborationist] “Blue Police” slaughtered Jews who hid from the Nazis. There were pogroms before the German occupation; many Jews who survived the Holocaust and sought to return to their homes were murdered.
Jews should not allow these attempts at laundering history to stand. It’s also unclear how this benefits Poland. [Warsaw’s efforts to ban certain statements about Polish collaboration with the Nazis] have ironically drawn greater attention to the Holocaust in Poland and the role Polish people played in it.
Israeli-Polish ties are important. Netanyahu’s strategy of working with the EU countries that are more pro-Israel, such as the Visegrad states [of Hungary, Slovakia, Poland and the Czech Republic], is a smart one—after all, the EU is our largest trading partner. But Israel should not and cannot let Poland get away with distorting the most tragic chapter in Jewish history.