By Inna Rogatchi, The Rogatchi Foundation—
Polish Lawmakers Championing Delusional Inquisition
My mother’s family is from Krakow. Since my childhood, following my mom’s attitude to life, I read and speak Polish, and am fully aware with the Polish history, its culture and traditions. My husband’s family on his father’s side is from Poland too, and the same can be said of him. We do have many friends in Poland and visited the country many times. Our knowledge includes both positive and negative facts, phenomena and threads throughout the Polish history. We are not acting on prejudice. We just refuse to be blind.
The current move of the Polish Sejm to pass the new law banning the mentioning the word ‘Polish’ regarding complicities to the Nazi crimes during the Second World War and the Holocaust is nothing short of the Inquisition efforts to control life, with the same zealotry and the same conscious efforts to impose the orchestrated, distorted picture of the world and history upon people, society and the world.
It is arrogant and blatantly false – and they know perfectly well that they are imposing lies. It is really enough, Poland, of telling us what to call your far too many accomplices to annihilation of Jewish people during the WWII, and threaten everyone, even beyond the Polish borders, with fines and up to the three years’ imprisonment terms.
At the same time, it is also utterly pathetic in its provincialism and short-sighted views. It is the worst of Poland, and they shall be made perfectly aware of what world is thinking on their ugly medieval exercises.
Importantly, it all have had its own path to what we are so indignant to see in Poland today.
How it was to be a saviour of Jews in after-war Poland?
I have an ongoing project from Outreach to Humanity series, called Shining Souls. Champions of Humanity. In this project, I pay respect to both Jewish victims of Holocaust and their non-Jewish saviours and defenders. The project was inaugurated at the European Parliament in January 2017 and was run there in memory of Elie Wiesel.
This year, its new Helsinki Edition is on display at the Library of the Parliament of Finland. In both cases, the special exhibitions and events around it are parts of the official commemorations of the International Holocaust Remembrance Days in 2017 and 2018.
The project involves a lot of special historical research. While working on ot, I have noticed the very high proportion of the Polish heroes among the people present there, about a third part of it. And I am proud of it, and of these great people, real heroes.
One of the visitors of the current exhibition at the Finnish Parliament had exclaimed next to some art works with special writings next to them: “Again a Pole?.. “ – “Yes, again, because those people were there saving the Jews and fighting Nazis”, – I replied to him. The episode had a place just a couple of days before the shameful vote in the Polish parliament. But I do make the distinction between the real Polish heroes and the arrogant and ignorant lawmakers of today in Poland who brought nothing but shame onto their country.
So high number of Polish heroes in my project corresponds to the number of Righteous Among the Nations recognised by Yad Vashem. I did not try to imitate the proportion of Yad Vashem. I came to the conclusion of my own. But the similarity with the Yad Vashem figures came as reassuring. According to Yad Vashem, among 26 513 people from 50 countries recognised officially by the institution as Righteous Among the Nations, 6 706 of them are Poles, which is 25,2%. The number of Poles in this honourable list is the highest in the world.
During my work on the Champions of Humanity project I came to see several important tendencies in the process of the applied humanism, so to say, related to the Holocaust, after the end of the war and thereafter. The one of the tendencies has to do with Poland in particular. For those real heroes who did save and did help to Jews during the war, it was ultimately difficult to live in their country after it.
To name a few, Zofia Kossak-Szuszcka had to leave Poland for a while to avoid the punishment for her heroism from the communist Polish authorities; Irena Sendler lived absolutely quietly in complete obscurity until two American teenagers wrote an essay about her role during the Holocaust as late, as in 1999, – not to mentioned that she was arrested and tortured by the Polish authorities in 1948, and despite the recognition of her role by Israel had occurred as early, as in 1965. It was in the atmosphere of the post-war and thereafter Poland which prevented Andrzej Wajda from making his film on Doctor Korczak until 1990. It was not before almost 40 years after the end of the WWII when Polish authorities made Pharmacy Under Eagle in Krakow a small museum recognising heroism of Tadeusz Pankiewiecz and his colleagues during the Holocaust.
Anyone who is dealing with the post-WWII history in Poland knows in depressing detail how punishable it was to be a saviour of Jews during the Holocaust, how badly those heroic people were treated, how totally silent they had to be about their brave stand during the war. And this was the case not just with regard to the communist authorities of Poland, it was the case with regard to a wide public, as well. As unbelievable, as it might sound, – especially given the fact that 90% of Jews of Poland had been exterminated during the Holocaust, quite often with direct involvement and complicity of the local population, like it a group of some legislators in the current Poland or not.
We also know how hostile very many Polish people were towards those very few Jews who decided to return to their homes after surviving the Holocaust. They were seized the Jewish houses and apartments, they grabbed the Jewish belongings and property, and the last thing they wanted it to give it back. The atmosphere of hatred and more hatred cruelly suffocated the people who did survive Holocaust by a miracle.
Today, I would like to ask all those delusional, in the best case, Polish legislators who voted for the scandalous law banning the world to call things their real names as long, as Poland during the WWII is involved: how many Jews were murdered by P-o-l-e-s after May 1945? International historian community estimates the figure between one and two thousand people, the victims of the Poles, after the WWII, in Poland, with all of several different historians agreeing that the figure is far from being precise due to the fact that during the period of time from May 1945 until the end of 1948 the crimes committed by Poles against Jews in Poland had been recorded very selectively and prosecuted yet more selectively , according to the Yad Vashem studies ( Anti-Jewish Violence in Poland After Liberation, Yad Vashem International School for Holocaust Studies).
We also know how many families of the descendants of the Polish Jews perished during Holocaust were treated in Poland at any time throughout 1990s and 2000s when they were visiting the places of their parents and grandparents. In my records, there are many stories with a similar content in which the local people in Poland were both hostile and afraid seeing ‘some Jews’ approaching ‘their’ houses. Not all of them, but prevailing number.
Do the Polish legislators today believe, for some reason, that all those people all around the world whose families were annihilated in Poland during Holocaust, are stupid, and do not know who did what during that time? If they do, they are really pathetically provincial. And there is only one remedy against provincialism: learning, with a good dose of modesty, to start with.
What was the Polish anti-Semitism like in the end of 1960s and thereafter?
My students are always hugely surprised at the one and the same spot, without mistake, and years on – it is when I am telling them on the vile anti-Semitism in Poland which swiped the country in the end of 1960s and thereafter.
“How come? – they are asking me often. – In Poland, after the war just 10% of its Jewish population was left , 38. 000 people from 3.47 million of them before the war. After the war, 160 000 Polish Jews were returned to Poland from the territory of the USSR, and 20-40 000 Jews came there from Germany. Three quarters of those people had moved to Israel immediately and speedily in a period between 1945 and 1948 precisely because of the outburst of brutal anti-Jewish POLISH violence in Poland.
There had been around 40 000 Jews in Poland from 1950s onward, the biggest part of which had concealed their Jewish origin, a phenomenon widely known to everyone in Poland. And then in 1968, the new anti-Jewish hysteria had outburst so mighty, so widely it was spread and so violent it has become, without Nazis around, than 90% of those poor 40.000 had to flew their homes and their country. How it has become humanly possible? “ – my students are asking me repeatedly. And I am replying to them: “Humanly it is impossible. But inhumanly it was”.
Very soon, in March 2018, POLIN Museum of History of Polish Jews would be holding a big commemorative international conference on that another dark period in the Polish history in the part of their attitude to Jews who did not invade Poland, but who were living in the country for over one thousand years, and has enriched Poland culturally and scientifically enormously. But the legislators sitting in the Polish Sejm and its Senate today seems to never hear about anything like that. Inquisitors usually are too busy with their delusions, to attend the realities.
Who Are You? – From the Polish anti-Semites Perspective
We all know outrageous stories, many of it happening to many of us personally, in Poland, in the local desperate effort to suppress the truth about the WWII and the Holocaust there.
We were having the most amusing private guided tour at the Auschwitz back in mid-1990s led by famed Polish historian who simply tried to avoid the barracks where the Jews were imprisoned and who tried to drop anything related to anything Jewish – in Auschwitz – while emphasising the time and again on 3 000 Polish martyrs murdered there and focusing on the Polish suffering exclusively.
We were interested to let him to finish his escapades, after which provided him with a barrage of questions trying to behave, of course. We were speaking with renowned academician, after all. He had become nervous and asked us non-stop:” But who you are? Who you are?” – “ Just human-beings”, – said my husband to him very calmly. “ “But you are doubtfully so”, – I added.
I have had another memorable “Who Are You?” encounter there in Poland, a decade later from that first one, this time in the Polish Sejm where I was the invited speaker at the both Houses joined special seminar on the modern history. At the ceremonial dinner, in far less formal millieu, after quite a few vodkas washed down by the hosts, they’ve started to speak in Polish among themselves about the recently published book by Jan Gross, Neighbours. The book’s sub-headline is The Destruction of Polish Community in Jedwabne.
My hosts led by the former Defence Minister Macierewicz did not realise that I understand Polish perfectly well – on which I had had to remind them, with the discussion around animalistic pogrom in Jedwabne around our festive table getting into its international dimension.
Pan Macierewicz’s line was surprisingly boring, I must say: he just blatantly insisted that there was no such thing as Polish massacre in Jedwabne, and that professor Gross is ‘an especially devil person, you know”. When Pan Macierewicz was explained that he is trying his silly propaganda on the Jewish person, he got close to an apoplectic attack. And he had to enter into the hearing a small, quite abridged lesson on Jedwabne massacre, suffering visibly in the sake of the international co-operation.
The current tendencies: aggressive falsehood and arrogant distortion of history
From the last elections in the Autumn 2015 onward, the effort of distortion of history in Poland has accelerated dramatically. These outlines has been implemented fiercely by the Polish government which has been seriously renewed recently, but the change did not affect the efforts to impose the orchestrated version of the history and to do it forcibly.
There are far too many episodes which had happened in Poland during the last couple of years which has made the image and the reputation of the country tarnished profoundly. Because lies and lies put on consciously and with arrogance always achieve just that: ruined reputation.
We are witnessing very unbalanced, too inflamed and pushy agenda putting forward the theme of the Poles who saved Jews during the Holocaust, making all of them super-heroes and super-martyrs, – although, there is a very rich documentation exists in the Polish archives on the facts that many of those people to whom Polish Jews turned for help did it for money, and very often deceived the victims taking their money and belongings and denouncing them to Germans, to get yet another bit of money or a part of belonging for that. Now, the Museums designed to portray the super- and ultimate heroism of the Polish people who saved the Jews are mushrooming, including the new one to be established inside the Auschwitz. The history told in those new pro-Polish glory museums is unbalanced and one-sided.
We are witnessing the appalling treatment by the Polish authorities of such international authorities on the history of Holocaust and post-Holocaust in Poland as American and Canadian professors Jan Tomasz Gross and Jan Grabowski who are constantly threatened, defamed, questioned by the Polish police, prosecutors, and investigative authorities, and even threatened with their lives. If the people who are witch-hunting them and their colleagues could read, they might find a lot of answers in their domestic Polish archives, if they would not be altered, or even destroyed, as many Polish historians are afraid nowadays expecting just anything from the current authorities and their too eager representatives.
We are witnessing as another historian of international reputation, professor Machcewicz had to run from his country and seek the work abroad for his decent and objective narrative of the Second World War history in the new Gdansk Museum, with all his team dissolved by the Polish authorities. Now the narrative of the main exhibition of the important museum being suppressed and is in the process of change by the newly imposed team.
It is in that Gdansk museum that people are struggling in a total darkness around the Deutsche Bahn cattle wagon being unable to read important historic notes next to that symbolic exhibit – as the current leadership of the museum gave an order to switch the light there off. Simple and efficient. It is in the same museum the first three rooms which are setting the whole narrative in its balanced and objective way had been simply sealed off. Nothing is changed there, as yet; it is just closed for the visitors. And so on, the whole museum is quietly altered by those small details making the top-class exposition very much DDR-like.
We are witnessing how the Polish state and its culture institutions had been financing outrageous, consistent mocking of Holocaust by a group of so-called ‘artists’ who has produced the most repulsive installations and videos openly laughing on Holocaust and its victims, making the outrageous exhibitions, and pretending it all to be ‘freedom of expression’. If somebody would dare to do the same on the theme of Catholicism, the outcry would be unbounded.
We are witnessing such outrage as efforts by certain Polish officials to go on with exhumation at the place of the Jedwabne massacre, in order to prove that the Jewish people killed there has died from the German bullets, – knowing perfectly well not only extremely well documented history of that massacre and on the role in it the local Polish population, but the stern fact that the exhumation is categorically forbidden by the Jewish law. Respect? The people who are ruling Poland today with a super-zealotry of the Inquisition, has no clue what the word means.
We are witnessing today a new Polish law on the restitution which is yet another mockery and which practically and blatantly deprives the families of the Jewish victims of Holocaust of an adequate compensation. And we are talking about it on the 74th year after the end of the war – a mockery.
We are witnessing today burning of an effigy of a Jew in a front row of a mass rally in Wroclaw that happened to be a culture capital of Europe at the time of the event. Yes, the man who did it had been investigated and sentenced. To three months of imprisonment – after he appealed successfully his previous 10- months sentence. This is Poland today, make no mistakes.
We are witnessing the head of the Polish Tourist Agency taking off Auschwitz and Jewish museums from the official program for the visits by the foreign journalists while making public comment that “Poland has nothing to do with suffering of strangers in our country”. Yes, that person had been sacked from his position after international outcry, but the fact is that it has happened when he was the highest Polish governmental official responsible for tourism in the country.
We are witnessing the ugliest Nazi celebration by Polish youth today, filmed and demonstrated widely, with them being arrested after the recording was made public. But again, the fact is that this is what is happening in Poland today. Local Nazis, sorry, Polish legislators, you just have them.
And new Polish Prime-Minister Mateucz Morawiecki had a gut to do two stunning things in connection with the International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2018: he tweeted that ‘Auschwitz-Birkenau is not a Polish name’; and he stays that the new exhibition at Yad Vashem of 15 000 photos of Holocaust , many of them taken secretly in the various Jewish Ghettos in Poland, is ‘dedicated to Poland’. The degree of some people’s arrogance just cannot be over-estimated. But why on earth the rest of the world shall swallow these numerous Polish exercises the one after another? Well, we do not. And we will not, for the record.
The Law and the Truth
There should be no mistake regarding the new law passed by the Polish Sejm and banning the naming the German concentration camps on the Polish territory as the Polish ones. The law is getting far beyond it. It aims to bans also, under the threat of various penalties, up to the three years of imprisonment, for anyone, would it be Polish citizen or foreigner, to name Poles as accomplices of the Nazi crimes during the Second World War and Holocaust.
Let’s be crystal clear on that: yes, the concentration and extermination camps on the occupied Polish territory was the German operation of the Nazi regime. Poland as a state could apply to the international community with an appeal to be correct in terminology. It would be perfectly manageable thing to do.
But the rest of the law has nothing to do with terminology. It has everything to do with heavy censorship and is a crusade against the truth. Who were the local people who were so enthusiastically and in such quantity denounced Jews to the Germans? Who were those locals who were robbing and raping Jews, killing them, burning them alive? Who were those who were getting into the Treblinka and the other places of the German extermination of Jews and shamelessly digging the places of mass murder in order to find golden teeth? Have not you seen the photographs about just that, with no single German around, Polish legislators from the Sejm? But now, those photos and the other documents which are telling the unpleasant for some inflamed politicians truth about the Polish complicities during the Holocaust are questioned and declared as ‘fabricated’, of course.
The role of the Institute of the Polish National Memory in this repulsive crusade against the truth is substantial and alarming one.
In fact, the new law passed by the Polish Sejm in its defiant character aims not to preserve a good name of the country. This new legislation aims to stop historians, writers, documentarists, students, and any other members of the public from both Poland and the international community on their quest on the role of Poles and Poland in the Nazi atrocities – and their own atrocities, as it has happened, in fact – during the Second World War and the Holocaust. This is conscious attempt to distort the facts and the history of the Second World War and the Holocaust, and is the act of an official whitewashing and distortion of the history.
The fact that the Polish Sejm has chosen to pass this scandalous law on the International Holocaust Remembrance Day has placed Poland and its current legislators in the rank of most shameless revisionists of history.
But one just cannot help itself not to see that the current legislators of Poland in their frantic efforts to re-write the history are utterly pathetic. If they believe that the rest of the world would follow their suit and start to call black white because it is Polish, they will be isolated from the civilised international community much faster than they can imagine.
How about boycotting the country that boycotts the truth? Current Poland just had asked for that.
January 28, 2018
Dr Inna Rogatchi is writer, historian and film-maker, the author of the internationally acclaimed The Lessons of Survival film on Simon Wiesenthal. Her forthcoming book is A View From a Cattle Wagon, collection of essays on post-Holocaust ( 2018). She is a co-founder and president of The Rogatchi Foundation.
Illustration: The Photograph of the Polish peasants digging for golden teeth of the Jewish victims after their extermination in Treblinka. In front of the Polish peasants are Jewish sculls and Jewish bones of the victims. Courtesy: Muzeum Walki i Meczenstwa Treblinka, the Polish Museum. Copyright: Agencja Gazeta, the Polish Agency.