For the week ending 10 March 2018 / 23 Adar II 5778

The Truth, the Whole Truth and Nothing But the Truth?

by Rabbi Reuven Lauffer
Reflections on the recent Polish legislation regarding "Holocaust crimes"
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The Polish Sejm and Mateusz Morawiecki, the Polish Prime Minister, are absolutely correct. The Poles did not create or have anything to do with the running of the Concentration Camps in Poland during the Holocaust.

In September 1939 Poland was invaded by the Nazis. It took just over a month to conquer Poland and to bring over thirty million citizens under the tyranny of the Nazi jackboot. Of more than thirty million Poles three-and-a-half million of them were Jewish, of whom three million were murdered by the Nazis mostly in the six extermination camps established on Polish soil. Together with the innocent Jewish victims an additional two million Poles were murdered by the Nazis. The Nazis treated the Poles abominably and regarded them as nothing more than vassals to be used for their own purposes. After the onslaught it was to the infamous Auschwitz that the Nazis sent the Polish prisoners of war. Most did not survive the barbaric treatment and the sub-human conditions (which were still better than those of Auschwitz-Birkenau where the Jews were sent).

So when the Polish parliament declares that it is a historical fallacy that the Concentration Camps were “Polish” they are 100% correct. Whether they were correct to legislate a law that makes it illegal to suggest that the Extermination Camps were Polish is a point that will be debated for a long while to come – but it is definitely their prerogative to do so. If they would have sufficed with that I am sure it would have only made a few ripples before disappearing from the international stage.

However, the Polish government and its parliamentarians went much, much further. They also legislated that it is a crime for anyone to say that Polish were guilty of “Holocaust crimes”. And that is simply not true. There is a huge amount of evidence that Poles turned on their Jewish neighbors, friends and business acquaintances both during and immediately after the Holocaust. One would have thought this impossible to ignore due to the masses of written testimony and eye-witness accounts. So the fact that Sejm has chosen to do just that – ignore the incontrovertible facts – is breathtaking.

Just one example will suffice to disprove the morally inexplicable decision that the Polish lawmakers made. Immediately after the Holocaust, Jews began trickling back to their homes in the city of Kielce in central Poland. They had no greater dream than to try to reestablish their lives and to live out the rest of their lives in peace. On the 4th of July, 1946 – a year and one month after the Germans surrendered and the Second World War came to an end in Europe – a pogrom was sparked by the spurious claim that a non-Jewish child had been kidnapped by the Jews. Even though the claim was officially withdrawn, the police and the local militia decided to force their way into the house where the child was purported to be. Of course the non-Jewish child was not found but, nevertheless, many Jews were killed. Among those killed were women and children. But that was just the beginning. Following the initial murders inside the building those that were left alive were driven outdoors where they were set upon by the local Polish residents who had come en-masse to watch what was happening. Approximately twenty Jews were viciously battered to death by civilians armed with iron rods and clubs. At that point no one who could have stopped the crowds – not the police and not the civic leadership of Kielce – tried to intervene to end the carnage. By the end of that bloody and terrible day forty-two Jews had been murdered and tens more had been viciously beaten.

The Jews of Kielce were murdered by Poles simply because they were Jewish. Not for any other reason. The Polish government can protest as much as they want. They can also legislate as much as they want. But they cannot change the historical facts. And it is morally reprehensible for them to think that they can turn the truth into whatever they want it to represent.

At 7 Planty Street, on the building that the massacre took place, there is a plaque that reads [sic]: “In memory of the 42 Jews murdered on July the 4th in 1946 during the anti-Semitic riots. Commemorating plate is built in anniversary of this events by Nissenbaum Foundation on the initiative of Lech Walesa the leader of Solidarity.”

I wonder, is Mateusz Morawiecki and his coalition going to order that the plaque be removed? And, if not, will it be a crime to stop at number 7 Planty Street to read it?

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