Senior Polish Politicians Step Up Anti-Jewish Rhetoric, as Dispute Over Widely-Condemned ‘Holocaust Law’ Continues to Rage
Accusations that American Jews are conspiring to squeeze billions of dollars out of Poland in Holocaust reparations, along with wild claims that Polish Jews were behind the Soviet deportations of Polish citizens during World War II, have spread like wildfire across the Polish media in recent days, after the country’s Senate approved widely-condemned legislation prohibiting discussion of Polish collusion with the Nazi genocide of the Jews.
One observer in Warsaw compared the present atmosphere in Poland to 1968 — when thousands of Jews were purged and driven into exile by an antisemitic campaign targeting “Zionists” that was led by the ruling Communist Party. The observer pointed to an unsigned editorial on the website of the pro-government TV Republika on Monday that accused the “Jewish community in Poland and its representative institutions” of “too rarely and too weakly defending Poland and the Poles in the international arena.”
The current conflict over the Holocaust legislation — which is scheduled to be signed into law by President Andrzej Duda later this month — “is a big test of loyalty for the Polish Jews whose organizations are linked personally and institutionally with American Jews,” the editorial said.
A number of recent cases of the use of antisemitic rhetoric in Poland were reported by the anti-fascist NGO “Nigdy Wiecej” (“Never Again”), which described them as “deeply alarming.”
Speaking on national television on Saturday night, Ryszard Czarnecki — the Polish vice president of the European Parliament — denounced “the circles of American Jews,” and claimed that Jews in the US “have often been even more aggressive” toward Poland “than the Jewish circles in Israel.”
Czarnecki, who represents the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) Party, approvingly quoted a maxim of Roman Dmowski — a violently antisemitic nationalist leader prominent in Poland during the inter-war years — declaring, “I am a Polish politician and I have Polish duties.”
Conventionally regarded as a mainstream conservative politician, Czarnecki even traveled to Israel in 2007, writing admiringly of his visit to the Knesset under the headline “Shalom Israel!” But his invocation of an organized Jewish campaign against Poland was strongly echoed by other leading PiS politicians. Many of them asserted that the concerns expressed by Jewish leaders about the possible censorship of Holocaust studies in Poland were a convenient mask for an offensive to secure unpaid compensation for Holocaust-era crimes.
“This is not about freedom, but about money, as always,” Sen. Jerzy Czerwinski of the PiS stated in a speech to the Polish parliament on Feb. 2. Speaking on national radio, his PiS colleague Artur Warzoch claimed that official US criticism of the Polish legislation was the result of “the activity of large lobby groups which directly influence congressmen in the US and are linked with big money.”
Another PiS legislator, Sen. Jan Zaryn, warned darkly on TV Republika that “all kinds of instruments will be used, because it’s a struggle for real money … There are secret moves (against us,) we are the only country that has not passed a restitution law.” (Current Polish legislative proposals for restitution have been strongly criticized by Jewish organizations for leaving the vast majority of Holocaust survivors and heirs ineligible for compensation.)
Writing in the nationalist weekly Mysl Polska, Janusz Sanocki, a far-right parliamentarian, asked openly, “What kind of order will Uncle Sam’s army install, and what are the crimes attributed to us by ‘the older brothers in faith’ — the Jews?”
Sanocki continued : “It’s simple. It’s about the post-Jewish property worth billions of dollars left behind by the Holocaust victims, the Jews who left no heirs … The Poles have to give them billions for the heirless property left by Jews. Thus they need to be softened and accused of Nazism. Thus the talk of ‘Polish death camps’ and the tales about Polish crimes against Jews.”
These claims of a current Jewish conspiracy against Poland were matched with comments from other nationalist politicians alleging a historical conspiracy as well.
“The Holocaust against the Poles continued after World War 2,” PiS MP Krystyna Pawłowicz wrote on Facebook.
She continued, “ISRAEL, are these JEWS guilty of crimes against the Poles?” before providing a list of Soviet security officials supposedly of Jewish origin.
Almost 1.5 million Poles were deported by the Soviet occupation authorities to gulags in Siberia during the early period of the war. According to the eminent historian of Poland, Prof. Norman Davies of University College, London, these victims also “included 100,000 Polish Jews, headed by the Chief Rabbi of Warsaw, Moses Schorr.” Nonetheless, the assertion that the Jews encouraged and organized Soviet repression of Poles is a common one in right-wing groups.
Speaking on Polish radio, Marek Jakubiak, another far-right MP, claimed that “the Jews welcomed them (the Soviet Red Army) with flowers.”
“I’m asking, where were the Jews when 500,000 Poles were murdered in front of their eyes, and 2 million Poles were put on the trains of death to Siberia,” Jakubiak raged. “I’m asking if there was even a single Pole saved by Jews in a situation like that.”
In a separate interview, Jakubiak took aim at the museum at the site of the Auschwitz death camp in Poland, where nearly one million Jews — the largest group by far — were murdered by the Nazis.
“Perhaps we should only allow Poles to guide the tours in Auschwitz,” Jakubiak said, claiming he had been told “there is little about the Polish people there.” According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 147,000 Poles were deported to Auschwitz, of whom 74,000 perished in the camp.
Pawel Kukiz — a former candidate for the Polish presidency who received 21 percent of the national vote in the 2015 election — told national TV that any discussion of Polish collusion with the Nazis amounted to a “moral, ethical Holocaust against the Poles.”
“My mother helped Jews in Warsaw, she told me about it,” Kukiz said. “I have many Jewish friends. And I would not call the communist system ‘Jewish,’ despite the fact all the senior personnel in the security service, the NKVD, the judiciary were people with (Jewish) names like Szechter, Michnik, Morel, Swiatlo, Rozanski, Goldberg.”
For some legislators, meanwhile, the Holocaust bill as currently worded does not go far enough.
“We may have gone too far in softening the law,” PiS parliamentarian Stanislaw Pieta said on national radio, in a reference to the law’s exemptions for “academic” and “artistic” activity related to the Holocaust.
“If there is, for example, a theater play that twists history, the law is toothless,” Pieta complained.
“Perhaps the law will be amended soon to counteract such phenomena,” he added.