Poland-Israel Holocaust dispute hits the court of viral YouTube videos
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Poland-Israel Holocaust dispute hits the court of viral YouTube videos

Amid the diplomatic feud over Poland's new 'anti-defamation' law, Jewish activists push back on the Polish government for 'white-washing' anti-Semitism

Screenshots from YouTube videos related to the Holocaust history dispute between Israel and Poland. At left, a video from the Polish government's #GermanDeathCamps campaign. At right, a video produced by the Israeli group 'J-nerations,' February 2018.
Screenshots from YouTube videos related to the Holocaust history dispute between Israel and Poland. At left, a video from the Polish government's #GermanDeathCamps campaign. At right, a video produced by the Israeli group 'J-nerations,' February 2018.

In crisp black-and-white film footage, policemen with Stars of David on their armbands beat up elderly Jews on the streets of the Warsaw Ghetto. Elsewhere in the open-air prison, the Nazi-appointed Jewish cops herd crowds of ghetto inmates from one point to another and help move withered corpses to mass graves.

Although these scenes were staged for a Nazi propaganda film in 1942, at least one Polish scholar is citing the footage as “proof” of the Jews’ complicity in their own destruction during World War II. As the diplomatic row between Israel and Poland goes viral, it seems no holds are barred in creating, repackaging, or disseminating videos on YouTube.

The controversy began last month, as Polish legislators prepared a bill to punish those who claim the Polish state, or its people, collaborated with the Nazis in war crimes, including the Holocaust. As concerns about the law poured in from Israel and elsewhere, Poland’s government doubled down, and Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki accused Shoah victims of being responsible for their own murder as “Jewish perpetrators.”

To drive home the point that Nazi death camps were “German, from start to finish,” as opposed to Polish, the Polish government funded a campaign called #GermanDeathCamps. Without mentioning the Holocaust, the first videos focused on the shared suffering of Poles and Jews, as well as the rescue of Jews by Poles who were their “friends and allies.”

In one video, Lucyna Adamkiewicz, a veteran of Poland’s Home Army, spoke about her reaction to hearing people use the words, “Polish death camps.” Sitting in front of a backdrop showing the entrance to Auschwitz, where she was once imprisoned, the 91-year old Adamkiewicz said, “If I could fight for the truth, I would use my cane.”

According to some, the Polish government has been attempting to whitewash history and stoke anti-Semitic feelings, and the #GermanDeathCamps videos should be seen in this context. A measure to ban the export of kosher meat could be passed soon, for instance, while legislation to address Jewish property restitution from the war has been stalled for years. Fewer than 10,000 Jews live in Poland today, and communal leaders are deeply alarmed by the surge in anti-Semitism.

“This [is an] ongoing process of falsifying the history of World War II, censoring the Holocaust, insulting millions of victims and their families, setting up the new, distorted reality in their own country and trying to project this distorted reality onto the rest of the world,” wrote author and philanthropist Inna Rogatchi in an op-ed called, “Poland’s official anti-Semitism.”

According to Rogatchi, anti-Semitism has entrenched itself in many areas of Polish society. A tipping point, she said, was the prime minister’s framing of Jews as Holocaust “perpetrators” and “collaborators” in recent weeks.

“The public remarks of Prime Minister Morawiecki on ‘the Jewish perpetrators of the Holocaust’ is very close to Holocaust denial and [is] punishable by Poland’s own [anti-denial] law,” wrote Rogatchi.

‘Suspend relations with Poland now’

A social media storm erupted on Wednesday, when the Boston-based Ruderman Family Foundation posted a video it produced about the dispute with Poland. In the clip, the words “Polish Holocaust” were repeated defiantly, several times, by a number of activists. Toward the end, a narrator denounced the Polish government for its anti-defamation law and called for a halt to US-Polish relations.

During the since-removed video, participants spoke about “going to jail’ for saying the words “Polish Holocaust.” Some of them wondered about conditions in Polish jails, while others worried about being separated from loved ones if prosecuted.

“The United States must suspend relations with Poland now,” according to the final speaker. Viewers were urged to sign a petition demanding that Poland repeal the anti-defamation law.

Almost immediately, the video was lambasted in Poland and by Jewish groups for its “historic inaccuracy” in calling the Holocaust “Polish.” The Ruderman Family Foundation, best known for its work on disability inclusion, removed the video, but media outlets had already circulated it.

In a less controversial — and less viral — video, a new Israeli group called “J-nerations: A Forum for the Renewal of European Jewish Heritage,” produced a clip called “Holocaust survivors explain their truth.” In the video, a survivor spoke about “how Poles cooperated with the German oppressor.” Sometimes, Jews were betrayed for “two kilos of sugar” as a reward.

ניצולי שואה מספרים את האמת שלהם. הגיע הזמן להגיד את האמת

ניצולי שואה מספרים את האמת שלהם. הגיע הזמן להגיד את האמת

Posted by ‎דור לדור J-nerations‎ on Sunday, 18 February 2018

“Poland of 2018 wants us to forget those who denounced, raped, [and] murdered their Jewish neighbors, [and] after the war also robbed their home and property,” according to J-nerations, producers of the video.

‘Their history and mentality’

When it comes to using Internet videos in the current dispute, at least one scholar dug out war-era material. Unfortunately, the material was anti-Semitic footage shot by the Nazis, wherein Jews about to be murdered at the death camp Treblinka were exploited for propaganda.

In an open letter to professors at Tel Aviv University, Polish professor W. Julian Korab-Karpowicz claimed that Poland’s Jews facilitated their own demise during the Holocaust. A former ethics expert for the European Commission, Korab-Karpowicz wrote that Poles “saved thousands of Jewish lives” during the Nazi occupation, but that Jews were intent on collaborating with the enemy.

“[This] may have perhaps something to do with the Jewish character, [that] the Jews cooperated with the Nazi-German authorities,” wrote Korab-Karpowicz, who is currently teaching at Zayed University in Dubai.

“There [were] Jewish police employed by the Germans which obediently [sent] their fellow Jews to the death camps,” wrote Korab-Karpowicz. “In order to better understand people, it is helpful to know their history and mentality,” he added.

Professor Korab-Karpowicz’s letter was addressed to Jan Gross and Ruth Ronen, two leading researchers of Poles’ involvement in the persecution of Jews during the war. To help prove his point that Jews are of a certain “mentality,” Korab-Karpowicz, a former deputy mayor of Gdansk, included a link to 34-minutes of rough-cut “documentary” footage.

Produced in the spring of 1942, the staged scenes were filmed prior to the Warsaw Ghetto’s “liquidation,” when most of the 400,000 imprisoned Jews were deported to their deaths. During several days of filming, victims were forced to participate in a variety of degrading scenes, including women entering a ritual bath, well-dressed Jews trotting around street corpses, and Jewish police beating people with batons.

Called “The Ghetto,” the propaganda film was never completed. However, according to at least one renowned professor, the footage offers insight into the “mentality” of Jews who perpetrated their own genocide.

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