Poland is not responsible for the Holocaust and “was one of the countries that sent large numbers of men and women to resist the Nazis,” the Jerusalem Post has said in an article amid a spat between Israel and Poland over a new law on Holocaust responsibility.
The article, penned by Seth J. Frantzman and entitled “Setting History Straight – Poland Resisted Nazis,” notes that the Polish people “stood against the Nazi menace in Europe’s darkest hour” and “resisted Nazism valiantly,” unlike some other nations.
The proposed Polish law, approved by MPs in Warsaw last week in a bid to penalise those who claim Poland was responsible for Nazi crimes, “may be misguided and a bad way to go about dealing with history,” Frantzman writes in his article, “but Poland is right: It is not responsible for the Holocaust and the Polish people resisted Nazism valiantly, more so than many other countries that ran to collaborate.”
Poland and Israel are “involved in an angry controversy” over the contested new Polish regulations, Frantzman notes in the article posted on the jpost.com website.
He quotes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as opposing the new Polish law and stating that “one cannot change history and the Holocaust cannot be denied.”
Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin, former Finance Minister Yair Lapid and others have harshly condemned the law, Frantzman notes.
He also quotes Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who has said that “Auschwitz-Birkenau is not a Polish name” and that Arbeit Macht Frei (Work sets you free), the infamous German slogan above the entrance to the death camp, “is not a Polish phrase.”
Polish law ‘not denying Holocaust’
According to Frantzman, Israeli and Polish politicians “seem to be talking past each other,” while “Poland is not denying the Holocaust through a law designed to punish those who describe the death camps as Polish.”
The author notes that Nazi Germany invaded Poland at the start of World War II and that the Polish resistance movement was “active from the early days of the Nazi occupation.”
Frantzman points out that the Polish resistance movement “opposed the German crimes against Jews in Poland” and declared that “any participation by Poles in anti-Jewish actions” was “traitorous” and “punishable by death.”
Poland was “subjected to the most vicious policies of the Nazi German regime,” Frantzman says in his article. He quotes data by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, according to which he says at least 1.9 million non-Jewish Poles were murdered between 1939 and 1945. In addition, up to 1.5 million Polish citizens were sent to Germany for slave labour.
“This is in addition to the three million Jewish Polish citizens murdered in the Holocaust,” Frantzman writes. “The destruction wrought on Poland was also extreme, with Warsaw razed to the ground in 1944 during the Polish Home Army uprising. The Warsaw Ghetto had already been destroyed during the 1943 uprising.”
Poland ‘right to be angry’
Poland “is right to be angry when it is made to appear that Poles were somehow responsible” for the Holocaust, Frantzman says.
He adds: “Unlike most other countries occupied by Germany during the war, Poland did not provide a ready recruitment base for Nazi collaboration. For instance, the Waffen-SS recruited local units in Albania, Belgium, Estonia, Finland, France, Hungary, Latvia, Norway, Romania, Sweden and other countries. It didn’t find recruits among Poles.”
History “has an odd way of giving us the sense that Poles collaborated with Nazism, while whitewashing the real collaboration in Western Europe,” Frantzman says. He argues that “it is often forgotten that an estimated 6,000 Danes volunteered for Nazi collaborationist units, including SS units like the SS Division Wiking and SS Division Nordland” and that “there were 40,000 Nazi volunteers in Belgium … and the Germans found willing collaborators in many other countries as well, where they had no problem staffing local units. In France, they had an entire regime under the Vichy government willing to help expel Jews and do their bidding. Almost everywhere in Europe, except for among some groups such as Serbs and Poles, there was distinct collaboration.”
By contrast, “in most Western countries there was almost no resistance to Nazism,” according to Frantzman. “Compared to the Polish Home Army, which had hundreds of thousands of recruits to resist the Nazis, other resistance movements had trouble finding a handful of volunteers.”
While “individual Poles may have collaborated and after the Holocaust in 1946 there was the infamous and despicable Kielce pogrom … the record in Poland is one of resistance to Nazism,” Frantzman writes.
He reflects that the Holocaust “is too often used today as a political tool and rhetorical device.
“Not only is it invoked almost every day in Israeli political discussions, but its memory is abused throughout Europe and elsewhere.”
Poland’s “decision to want to legislate how the Holocaust can be discussed is misguided,” but “equally misguided is the anger directed at Poland and the distortion of history regarding Polish resistance.” Frantzman writes.
“If this whole controversy” over the proposed Polish law on Holocaust responsibility “should have one effect, it should not be for chest-beating Israeli politicians to attack Poland but rather to look into this history and perhaps learn from it,” the author concludes.