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Identity of Jews’ Enemies During the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Causes Diplomatic Crisis

While, to a great extent, Israel and Poland have made great strides in changing the once turmoil-ridden relationship between Jews and Poles, events last week showed how difficult it can be to ignore past experiences, especially when they center around the Holocaust.

The role of Poland during World War II was highlighted in a mid-February tweet sent from Warsaw during the US-led two-day conference on peace and security in the Middle East. NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell informed her public that Jews in the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising “fought against the Polish and Nazi regimes.”

Her tweet prompted immediate angry responses from the Polish government and some Jewish leaders who are developing close ties with Polish officials. Those connections have benefitted both the few remaining Jews in Poland as well as the growing relationship between Poland and Israel.

In a tweet of its own, the Polish Embassy in Washington described the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising as “a heroic act against the German Nazis who established the ghetto and carried out the Holocaust.”

“During World War II, Poland was attacked and occupied by the German-Nazi regime,” said the embassy, which demanded a retraction from Mitchell.

Jewish Support for Poland

Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress and a major benefactor of programs for the remnants of Jewish communities throughout Eastern Europe, responded to Mitchell by calling the Warsaw Ghetto “a diabolical creation of Nazi Germany in occupied Poland.”

“The Jewish insurgents who rose up fought against Germans,” said Lauder.

The American Jewish Committee’s Warsaw-based Central Europe office agreed, arguing that “it is beyond the pale to assert that Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto fought against ‘Polish and Nazi regimes.’”

The organization said the “basics of history” is that the Jews “rose up against the German oppressor.”

“Journalists should do their homework before speaking to millions,” the organization chided Mitchell.

The Forum of Polish Jews reacted with astonishment, calling Mitchell’s report “a gigantic, shameless instance of ignorance.”

The forum described the report as “an absolute scandal.”

American-Conservative Support

The Gateway Pundit, an American-conservative news website which says it was founded to “speak the truth” and “expose the wickedness of the political left,” jumped into the dispute on the side of the Polish government.

“In World War II, there was no collaborationist Polish government with the Nazis. The Poles were the victims of the Nazis, and, later, they were victims of Stalin. The Polish Home Army provided some support to Jews fighting against the Germans,” said Gateway.

According to Gateway, Mitchell was motivated to make her comment by “the liberal mainstream [that] loves to hate Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Austria, Italy’s Salvini and any populist government that defends Western culture.”

“The globalists are losing ground in Europe and the US, and the liberal mainstream media is outraged,” said the website.

Apology

In response, Mitchell apologized for her statement, explaining that she had “misspoke.”

But, for a few hours, it seemed as if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may have been weighing in on her side.

While attending the Middle East conference in Poland, Netanyahu was quoted as saying that the Polish nation cooperated with the Nazis during the Holocaust, an allegation that is not only deemed offensive by the Polish government but, since 2018, is against Polish law.

Clarifications

The Israeli Embassy in Poland contacted the Polish leadership and clarified that Netanyahu “didn’t say the Polish nation carried out crimes against Jews, but only that no one has been sued under the Holocaust law for saying ‘Poles’ collaborated.”

Israeli Ambassador to Poland Anna Azari said Netanyahu “never mentioned the ‘Polish nation’ in this context.”

After attending a Holocaust memorial at the Jewish Museum in Warsaw, Netanyahu issued his own clarification, denying that he had castigated the Polish government or nation as a whole. He stressed that some Poles, as opposed to the “Polish nation,” did, in fact, collaborate with the Nazis.

“Here I am saying Poles cooperated with the Nazis. I know the history, and I don’t whitewash it. I bring it up,” said Netanyahu.

Diplomatic Crisis

At first, it seemed as if the clarification had avoided a diplomatic crisis for the Jewish state. A few days after the Middle East conference, the Visegrad, sometimes called V-4, for Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia, was scheduled to conduct a high-level summit in Israel. Following Netanyahu’s original misquote, Polish President Adrzei Duda suggested the V-4 summit should be moved to another country or cancelled all together.

He then relented and agreed to allow the summit to go forward, but without either the president or the prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, in attendance. The country’s foreign minister was delegated to represent Poland.

And then, on Monday, February 18, Israel’s brand new acting Foreign Minister, Yisrael Katz, gave an interview to Israeli television in which he declared, quoting the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, that the Polish people “suckled antisemitism with their mother’s milk.”

Katz, who is scheduled to serve in his post only until the Jewish state’s next elections in April, is the child of Holocaust survivors. “The memory of the Holocaust is something we cannot compromise about. It is something clear, and we won’t forget or forgive” he told Israel’s Channel 13 TV, adding that while, “in diplomacy, you try not to offend,” it would be impossible to “change the historical truth” for any reason.

Later, in an interview on Israeli radio, he went further, saying, “the Poles took part in the extermination of Jews in the Holocaust. Poland became the biggest cemetery of the Jewish people.”

“Racist”

Poland’s Ambassador to Israel Marek Magierowski denounced Katz’s statement as “racist.” “It is really astonishing that the newly appointed foreign minister of Israel [makes] such a shameful and racist remark. Utterly unacceptable,” he tweeted.

The head of Poland’s Prime Minister’s Office, Michal Dworczyk, called Katz’s remarks “disgraceful” and said that, in light of the Israeli official’s statement, Poland’s participation in the V4 summit was “under a very big question mark.”

At the end of the day, Morawiecki announced that because “the words of the Israeli foreign minister are racist and unacceptable,” no Polish official would participate in the summit.

Although Lauder, who bemoaned the “rift,” did not mention Katz by name, the head of the World Jewish Congress seemed to castigate the Israeli foreign minister.

“It is unfortunate for both Jews and Poles that obnoxious and offensive stereotypes that have caused so much pain and suffering on both sides over the years continue to circulate,” he said, adding that “such language should have no place in civilized discourse.”

He expressed sadness that “decades of cooperation and goodwill are now in jeopardy.”

“Let us all work together to overcome this crisis, which has been a victory for the forces of intolerance and narrow-mindedness—and a terrible stain on the societies of both peoples,” he said.

Polish Law

According to Polish legislation enacted in February 2018, statements accusing Poland of participating in Nazi crimes carry fines and prison terms of up to three years. The law has been criticized by officials in Washington and Jerusalem.

Holocaust scholars, who point out that Auschwitz and other notorious death camps were located in Poland, maintain the new law allows Poland to whitewash the roles of Poles who killed or denounced Jews during Nazi Germany’s occupation of Poland during World War II.

Truth on Both Sides

After last week’s outcry over Mitchell’s tweet, one Holocaust scholar argued that both sides in the dispute were partly right.

“While it is certainly true that, during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, Germans were the enemy and no mention has ever been made of Jews fighting against Poles, it is equally factual that the Jews received neither encouragement nor support from the Poles—or from the West as a whole, for that matter,” said Dr. Alex Grobman, senior resident scholar at the John C. Danforth Society and author of many books on Holocaust history.

He pointed out that, during the 44 days of the Nazis’ campaign to evacuate the Warsaw Ghetto, there was no reaction from the Polish side of the city.

“This drama, unfolding in clear view of hundreds of thousands of Poles, was met with utter silence. At the time, the only Polish government was the one in-exile, and, from them, there was no outcry,” said Dr. Grobman.

Quoting Jewish historian Emanuel Ringelblum, Grobman said the London-based Polish government-in-exile offered “not a single word of encouragement, no promise of help or even moral support.”

Small Recognition

Only on September 17, after the expulsion of the Jews from Warsaw was completed, leaders of the “Civilian Struggle,” the civilian arm of the political underground, which was subordinate to the government-in-exile, responded with a declaration to the Polish people in which they recognized their inability to do anything to thwart the Nazis’ action.

Nevertheless, the struggle, speaking in “the name of the entire Polish people” as well as “all the political and social organizations in Poland,” declared that they were united in protesting against “the crimes which are being committed against the Jews.”

According to Grobman, there was nothing in the declaration regarding any action that might be taken by the underground on behalf of the Jews.

“There was no word of encouragement to Jews who might be fleeing the ghetto nor call to the Polish public to render any help to them. There was no suggestion that fleeing Jews could expect to seek shelter anywhere among Poles,” he said.

By Susan Rosenbluth,
TheJewishVoiceAndOpinion.com 

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