Papers skewer law from Polish tone-deaf camp
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Papers skewer law from Polish tone-deaf camp

The press unites against legislation outlawing assigning blame for Holocaust atrocities to Poland, with survivors and experts brought in to prove just what a mistake it is

The SS "tower of death" entrance to the former Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Poland, under which trains of Jewish deportees passed in 1944, when a spur was added to the existing track. The November 2015 photo was taken from outside the camp entrance. (Matt Lebovic/The Times of Israel)
The SS "tower of death" entrance to the former Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Poland, under which trains of Jewish deportees passed in 1944, when a spur was added to the existing track. The November 2015 photo was taken from outside the camp entrance. (Matt Lebovic/The Times of Israel)

Despite the old bromide about Israelis liking to argue and Jews having lots of opinions, there is apparently one thing that brings them together like nothing else: Poland trying to criminalize attempts to place any blame on Poland for the atrocities of the Holocaust.

A day after a Polish bill doing just that sparked a storm of criticism from Israel and a diplomatic tussle, papers in the Jewish state are 100% behind their elected representatives in lashing out at Warsaw for what is being called an attempt to distort history.

From bitingly sarcastic and angry headlines, like “The truth from Poland,” and “Forgetting the Holocaust,” in Yedioth Ahronoth, to personal accounts from survivors of Shoah crimes in which Poles took part to experts and talking heads ripping into the bill, there is more than enough righteous anger to put those Poles in their place for good.

If only they read Hebrew.

Indeed, with the country pretty much united against the law — even Joint List head Ayman Odeh made sure to weigh in against it — the papers are an exercise in preaching to the choir. So for the sake of any Pole who might happen to be reading this, I will sum up the papers’ message into one neat (and probably garbled) sentence thanks to the wonders of Google Translate: twoje ustawodawstwo to bzdury.

For those who don’t speak Polish, a journey into why Israelis think the law is wrong starts with tales of bad Poles from survivors themselves, of which Yedioth compiles two pages’ worth. (Yedioth by far leads the pack in lashing out against the legislation, including asking readers to write to them on Facebook about their stories of Poles behaving badly, with the hashtag #PolandTruth.)

“The Kapo in Auschwitz was Polish and she was worse than all of the Germans,” Tommy Shacham says in one such account. “She went beyond what she needed to do.”

Another woman, Esther Lieber, tells of running into the forest with her grandmother when the Germans came to round up her village.

“The Poles threw rocks at us and cursed us. We were like caged dogs,” she says. “One night a Polish person came with a lantern and started to beat my grandmother … that I will never forget.”

Israel Hayom also has a survivor speaking out, with Haim Kozinsky making no bones about his belief that “the Poles were full partners” in the Holocaust.

“With the law or without, they cannot remove the responsibility that is attached to them — that Poland took an active part with the Germans,” he writes.

While the tabloids go for the jugular, broadsheet Haaretz maintains a safe journalistic distance from the story, writing about the law and the backlash dispassionately. But that does not stop columnist Ofer Aderet from weighing in and calling the law “outrageous” and “counterproductive.”

“Choosing to draft a law in Poland that criminalizes those who express positions uncomfortable to Polish ears, including threatening jail time, for saying that some Poles were guilty of persecuting Jews, is embarrassing, astounding and outrageous. It is embarrassing because it is evidence of a hysteria in keeping with a fascist regime rather than the reasoned and more thoughtful approach at the foundation of a democratic government. It is astounding because it is clear to everyone that ultimately it will achieve the opposite result. The global public debate on Polish involvement in the persecution of Jews during the Holocaust will only grow, which runs counter to the interest of the Polish government,” he writes.

Yet he also concedes that “The Polish government is correct in claiming more should be done in praise of” Poles who helped Jews, sometimes risking their lives to do so.

In Israel Hayom, Prof. Havi Dreifuss, an expert at Yad Vashem, says that of course there were cases of Poles doing the right thing, and that they were under occupation. But that is not the issue — by trying to pass the censorship measure, the Poles are only hurting themselves and the memory of the Holocaust.

“The creation of a public atmosphere in which students and researchers, especially in Poland, will be afraid to discuss testimonies openly and deeply, and to write groundbreaking studies in the field, represented a real blow to the study of the Holocaust and its memory,” she writes.

In Yedioth, columnist Sever Plotzker also calls the law “absurd,” though he is sure to point out it’s not anti-Semitic, and rather than focus all his indignation on the Poles, also slams the Israeli government for going along with the Polish attempts at distortion until now.

“Official representatives of Israel and the Knesset took part recently in a conference about this subject organized by a nationalist Catholic broadcaster, once a leader in anti-Semitism but which has changed its stance and is trying to cozy up to the Israelis. The subject of the conference was the great salvation work supposedly done by the Poles during the time of the Nazi occupation,” he writes. “The findings of the conference, meant to anchor these historic lies, were praised by all the Polish government leaders, including Jarosław Kaczyński, head of the ruling Law and Justice party, and the honorable delegation from Israel headed by minister Ayoub Kara. Where was the Foreign Ministry then?”

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