In a world rife with bizarre news stories, last week’s vote by the Polish Senate to whitewash the role of some of its citizens in the systematic murder of Poland’s Jews truly stands apart. The new law forbids any person, Polish citizen or not, from making mention of the term “Polish death camps” or referring to Polish complicity in the violent erasure of its three million Jews. Violators of said law are subject to heavy fines and up to three years in Polish prison.
While it is technically true to state that the numerous Polish death camps were built and run by the Nazis who occupied Poland, in its nationalistic zeal for protecting Polish “honor” the Senate has dishonorably placed honor above truth, spin above historicity and revisionism above the cries of three million murdered Jews emanating from guilty Polish soil.
Where Poles stand on the viciousness and lethality scales among European civilian and state collaborators might be an interesting historical debate. Its outcome would be completely irrelevant to the Jews who died directly by Polish hands or perhaps more slowly by Polish fingers so eager to point out hidden Jews who were then sent to the Nazi-run Polish death camps.
While the actual camps were German, they could not have succeeded as well in their bloody extermination of Poland’s Jews without the collusion, both tacit and active, of those Jew’s neighbors. Although Poland indeed counts among its citizens many Righteous Gentiles who saved Jews, by what twisted logic does the Senate seek to exclude by definition of law all Poles from the long and damning list of occupied countries where governments, army, police and citizenry actively collaborated in locating their Jewish neighbors and sending them to their deaths?
Poland seeks to deny that Poles could possibly have any place on the aforementioned list as they are supposedly the only party in Europe innocent of collaboration in the slaughter of Jews. But when the guilty speak power to truth, however, the best we can do is to name names and let the truth speak for itself.
The Senate’s hypothesis is that Poles’ hands are clean. Let’s hear from just a few of the Polish Jews betrayed to the Nazis or murdered directly by their neighbors to see if such wishful revisionism holds any water.
Szyma Dorogoj was one of the 340 Jews of Jedwabne murdered by local Poles in a pogrom in 1941 – and she would disagree with the Senate and be arrested if she weren’t dead.
Regina Fisz and her month-old son Abram, of Kielce, were among the dozens of Jews murdered by Polish residents, police and soldiers – and they would disagree with the Senate and be arrested if they weren’t dead. (The Kielce massacre took place a year after the end of the war but is important to include here as a profound indicator of mass Polish Jew-hatred even in the absence of the putative Polish excuse of Nazi occupation).
To up the ante beyond individual Jews, historian Jan Grabowski in his book Hunt for the Jews: Betrayal and Murder in German-Occupied Poland shows quite damningly that Poles were directly and indirectly responsible for the deaths of at least 200,000 Polish Jews, their neighbors. I think it would be safe to assume that they, too, would disagree with the Polish Senate, and be arrested, if they weren’t already dead. The list could continue but we might run the risk of either boring or antagonizing the honorable Senate – and who knows what might happen then.
No self-preserving perpetrator likes telltale blood stains on their clothing, or on their historical record. Lady Macbeth cried out in her sleepwalking desperation, “Out Damn Spot!” – but just couldn’t erase the blood of one murdered king. Perhaps Poland should awaken to and accept guilt for a bloody history, recognizing that no mere law can whitewash the spot on its record. But if not, I hereby invite the Polish Senate to ask Interpol to start with me, a Jew in Israel who won’t bow to your revisionist diktat, a Jew who says aloud that many of your citizens were complicit with the Nazis and that the German Nazi death camps fully deserve the added descriptor of “Polish,” a Jew who isn’t afraid to speak truth to your abuse of power and the noble institution of law.
Unlike my countless brethren in European cities, villages and countrysides who were betrayed to the Nazis or just plain murdered by their Nazi-collaborating neighbors, you will find me and my neighbors more difficult prey. But hey, go ahead, Poland, make my day.
The author is a psychologist and writer in Gush Etzion.