Polish government insists Poles and Jews suffered Nazism ‘together’

Video by PM’s office says: ‘We did much to save Jews — as a state, as citizens, as friends… Today, we are still on the side of truth’

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

An image from a Polish government video clip which claims that Jews and Poles suffered Nazi terrors together, February 2018. (YouTube screenshot)
An image from a Polish government video clip which claims that Jews and Poles suffered Nazi terrors together, February 2018. (YouTube screenshot)

The Polish government has taken to YouTube to try to persuade the world that its countrymen were equally victimized by the Nazis as its Jewish citizens.

A video clip, entitled “Germany put Poland through Hell on Earth,” combines dramatic images and menacing music with the text, “Jews and Poles suffered its terrors together.”

The text continues, “We did much to save Jews — as a state, as citizens, as friends…Today, we are still on the side of truth.”

Produced for the Polish Prime Minister’s Office, it has already been viewed 9,242,590 times.

The move is part of a Polish charm offensive, some say attempt to recolor history, after Polish President Andrzej Duda’s controversial decision on February 6 — in the face of protests from Israel, the US, and the Jewish world — to sign into law a controversial proposal seeking to make it a criminal offense to blame Poland as a nation for Holocaust crimes committed by Nazi Germany.

Israel has expressed deep concerns that the legislation could open the door to prosecuting Holocaust survivors for their testimony, should it concern the involvement of individual Poles for allegedly killing or giving up Jews to the Germans.

Last week, the Foreign Ministry reportedly warned the Polish government not to send a delegation to Israel to discuss the law unless it is prepared to amend it, Channel 10 reported.

Jan Tomasz Gross, a Polish-born American historian and sociologist, whose Christian mother saved his Jewish father during the war, has accused the Polish government of pushing the law to “falsify the history of the Holocaust,” and to “gag any debate about the complicity of many Poles in the persecution of their Jewish fellow citizens.”

Two years ago, Poland’s president requested a re-evaluation of a medal given to Gross in 1996 — the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit. The author’s research and recent statements about Polish complicity in the genocide are seen as “an attempt to destroy Poland’s good name,” according to Duda.

In pledging to sign the controversial legislation this month, Duda also announced that he would ask Poland’s constitutional court to review the bill.

Jewish community leader Klaudia Klimek said at the time that Duda had requested that the tribunal probe whether the bill contravened freedom of speech, and also whether the language of the bill was understandable to lay people.

As currently written, the legislation — proposed by Poland’s conservative ruling party — calls for prison terms of up to three years for attributing the crimes of Nazi Germany to the Polish state or nation. The bill would also set fines or a maximum three-year jail term for anyone who refers to Nazi German death camps as Polish.

Many Poles were indeed involved in saving Jews. Over 6,700 Poles — more than in any other country — have been honored by Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum as Righteous Among the Nations: individuals who endangered their own lives to save those of Jews.

Yad Vashem estimates that some 30,000 to 35,000 Jews, around one percent of all of Polish Jewry, were saved with the help of Poles. Three million Polish Jews — 90 percent of the pre-war community — perished in the Holocaust.

The US Holocaust Memorial Museum estimates that Nazis killed at least 1.9 million non-Jewish Polish civilians during World War II.

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