My mother was born in Warsaw, which makes me half Polish. Now if one engages in ugly stereotypes, I’m sure the fact that I’m half Polish is no surprise to my many fans on the right wing wacko nut job side of Judaism.
But my point is that being of Polish extraction by birth, I have nothing against Poland. Actually that’s not at all true. I have a whole lot against Poland. Poland, you see, is not only the country where my mother was born, it is also the country where my grandfather, for whom I am named, my grandmother, for whom one of my sisters is named and my aunt, for whom another of my sisters is named, died.
Now I’d like to tell you that my zayde and bubbie and aunt all died at a ripe old age after having lived a long, happy life. But I can’t because my zayde was 45 when he died, my bubbie was 44 and my aunt was all of 20.
They died not of a heart attack or cancer, not because they were hit by a car or had a skiing accident. My bubbie and aunt were gassed to death. My zayde was worked and starved and beaten to death.
All three of them died in Poland. You may have heard of the place where my bubbie and aunt died. Its name is Auschwitz.
They arrived in Auschwitz in the country of Poland in May, 1944, having been torn from their home in Hungary, stuffed into a cattle car and transported to the country of Poland. As soon as they got to Auschwitz, they were taken to the gas chambers where they were murdered, their bodies then burned and their ashes added to a giant pile of ashes of thousands of other Jews.
My zayde and my dad arrived in Poland, in Auschwitz, the very same day. But because they were men and were deemed fit enough to be put to slave labor, they were transported from one camp after the other until on Nov. 26, 1944, my zayde collapsed from too much work and too little food, and died. His place of death was a sub camp named Ellrich, in the country of Poland.
Those are the facts. Unlike my mother who was born in Poland, my zaydie and bubbie and aunt died in Poland because they were Jews and that’s where millions of Jews were taken for the express purpose of dying, of being shot and gassed and burned and worked to death.
I hope I’m not offending the people of Poland and the country of Poland by pointing that out.
Of course, if I was in Poland today and pointed that out, said my grandparents and aunt died in Polish death camps, I would be breaking the law, could myself be arrested for simply stating the facts about the extermination of my zayde, bubbie and aunt.
It seems the Polish people are so the sensitive types. They’ve never been very good about acknowledging their role in the Holocaust, apologizing for their role in the Holocaust, and they also seem to have failed to grasp that there was a reason the Nazis set up so many of their concentration camps in Poland, including the most notorious of all, Auschwitz.
There was a reason. As they like to say in real estate, the three most important factors to consider are location, location, location. And that is exactly why the Nazis chose Poland. Because they knew it would be hospitable territory to set up their factories of death, because they knew the Polish people would be very willing accomplices, be happy to help the Nazis carry out their work, knew the Polish people would not object, indeed would pretend they had no idea what was going on in the death camps, were clueless about the smell of burning flesh coming from Auschwitz.
One can debate whether the people and government of Poland were as responsible for the Holocaust as were the Germans and the German people. Clearly, the Nazis were the senior partners, but also clearly the Poles were very active, complicit junior partners. What they certainly were not were innocent, helpless victims.
And yet, the Poles are now portraying themselves as just that, as victims of the Nazis, indeed in their own way as much victims as were the Jews. And so convinced of their innocence are the Poles, they have incredibly just passed a law that criminalizes rhetoric blaming Poland for what it calls Nazi crimes, makes it a crime to blame the Polish state or nation of atrocities that the law says were perpetrated exclusively by Nazis during their occupation of Poland.
The new law makes it illegal to use the term “Polish death camps” to describe facilities it describes as set up on Polish soil by German Nazis. If you use the phrase “Polish death camps,” if you blame Poland for what it says are the crimes of Germany, you can be put in prison for up to three years.
It makes one’s head want to explode, one’s soul to break in half. In Poland today, it is now against the law to say Polish death camps. Were there Polish death camps? My dead bubbie, zaydie and aunt, along with millions of other Jews, are tragic testimony to that. But to try to avoid that reality, try to make like they had nothing to do with it, were totally opposed to it, the government of Poland has just made it illegal to call them Polish death camps, even though that is exactly what they were.
To say they were Nazi death camps set up in Poland, to make it seem as if Poland was removed from it all, is not only to fly in the face of the facts, but to show a stunning desire to play word games, to miss the point, to evade responsibility.
In doing what it’s doing, trampling over freedom of speech, historical accuracy, taking responsibility, Poland is demonstrating exactly why the Nazis knew they were choosing the right country when they decided the very best place in all of Eastern Europe to put their killing fields was Poland.
Poland is so afraid of the truth, so afraid for its citizens to hear the shameful truth that the government cancelled a planned visit to Poland by Israel’s minister of education Naftali Bennett, after he said he would use the opportunity to tell the Polish people the “truth” about their country and the Holocaust.
Bennett said he wanted to go to Poland because he was “determined to say explicitly what history has already proved — the Polish nation had a proven involvement in the murder of Jews during the Holocaust. I am going to speak truth, where the truth took place. The message is loud and clear: The past cannot be rewritten.”
How Poland was in the past can be seen in the present, can be seen by how Poland has reacted since the new law passed and was harshly criticized by Israel and Jewish groups around the world. Indeed, the anti-Semitism that has spewed forth in Poland since the law passed has shown why the law is so dangerous, because it tells young Poles not to feel bad about what their country did, to believe their country didn’t do anything at all, which means they will not learn the lessons they need to learn and which means that anti-Semitism, so much a part of Polish culture, has been given new license.
Referring to Jewish criticism of the new law, a journalist with RMF, one of the largest Polish commercial radio stations, wrote about the “war with the Jews.” “Poles, we are at war! We are at war with the Jews! Not for the first time in our history,” wrote Bogdan Zalewski. “We can find ourselves in a state of absolute isolation that completely exhausts us down to annihilation. In my opinion, it is necessary for Poles to be aware and to work on the development of the national spirit.”
He went on to blame Jews for the “iron fist” of Soviet rule in Eastern Europe, and accused the Jews of a reign of terror against the British and Arabs in prestate Israel. “The U.S. authorities were full of Jews in many key positions. Many of these Jews have been actively engaged in espionage in favor of the Soviets,” he said.
Poland’s state-owned television station sent out a tweet alleging that the Jewish opposition to the law was part of an attempt to seize Polish property. A former priest began selling T-shirts denying Polish responsibility for a pogrom against Jews by their non-Jewish neighbors during the Nazi occupation.
A TV show host and his guest mocked critics of the legislation, suggesting that Jews were in part responsible for their own slaughter during the Holocaust and joking that the death camps should be referred to as “Jewish death camps.” “If we look at the percentage of involvement of countries that took part [in the Holocaust], Jews also were part of their own destruction,” said the guest Rafał Ziemkiewicz. Earlier, Ziemkiewicz on Twitter called Jews opposed to the new law “scabs,” a nasty term often used in anti-Semitic slurs in Poland.
The host Marcin Wolski added: “Using this terminology, linguistically, we could say these were not German or Polish camps, but were Jewish camps. After all, who dealt with the crematoria?” Wolski was apparently referring to Jewish inmates who were forced to dispose of gas chamber victims at the death camps.
The head of the Polish Press Agency, Wojciech Surmacz, also blamed Jews for the deaths of other Jews during the Holocaust, sharing on Twitter a photo of Jewish ghetto police. He said the police were responsible for the deaths of “millions of Jews” in Poland.
And so it’s been. Poland, so desirous of not taking any responsibility for the dozens of concentration camps on Polish soil, for the millions of Poles who either abetted or ignored what was going in those camps, so wanting to disassociate itself from the anti-Semitism at the heart of the Holocaust that resulted in Polish soil being soaked in Jewish blood, has actually made it against the law to say Polish death camps and has engaged in an orgy of anti-Semitism in defending against criticism of that law, in justifying why it had to have the new law.
They are not only saying it was only the Nazis responsible for Auschwitz and the other camps, but are even blaming the Jews themselves. Anything but the Poles themselves.
“In my worst nightmares I never expected to hear jokes about Auschwitz, Jews and gas chambers on state-owned television,” Piotr Kadlcik, a prominent Warsaw Jewish leader, said.
And yet, that is Poland today. Just like it was back in the time of the Polish death camps.