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August 25, 2016 3:45 pm

Antisemitism Scholar: New Legislation Shows Poland Has Yet to Acknowledge Country’s Holocaust History (INTERVIEW)

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A massacre memorial in Jedwabne, Poland. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

A massacre memorial in Jedwabne, Poland. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

There is no doubt that Poles have not come to terms with their country’s Holocaust history, a renowned antisemitism scholar told The Algemeiner on Thursday, a week after Warsaw approved legislation to make the use of phrases like “Polish death camps” punishable by up to three years in prison.

Manfred Gerstenfeld, an Austrian-born Israeli who was raised in Holland, explained to The Algemeiner that Poland’s World War II history was “not simple.”

“On one hand, Poles saved Jews,” said Gerstenfeld, founder of the think tank the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs’ post-Holocaust and antisemitism program. “On the other hand, they killed Jews. The Jews were put in ghettos. Jews fled from the ghettos, and some of those Jews fought with the resistance, and others were murdered by the resistance or delivered to the Germans.”

Gerstenfeld continued:

You have to make a distinction between two things: the issue that the Poles do not want the camps like Belzec and Auschwitz to be talked about as Polish death camps, which is perfectly legitimate, because they weren’t Polish death camps; they were German death camps in Poland. But have the Poles come to grips with their history? No, they have not. And there are serious indications that they embellish and falsify history of Poles during the war regarding the Jews.

Gerstenfeld highlighted the research done by Polish-born American historian Jan Tomasz Gross, who has claimed that Poles killed more Jews during the war than they killed Germans — an assertion that sparked controversy in Poland. According to an Associated Press report in April, Gross was questioned by a Polish prosecutor in Katowice on suspicion of committing the crime of “publicly insulting the nation.”

The issue of the murder of Jews by Poles was first focused on by Gross a decade and a half ago, with his publication of Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland. The book details a July 1941 incident in which at least 340 Polish Jews were murdered by a group of non-Jewish Poles.

Since the publication of that book, Gerstenfeld said, Gross has found evidence that the Jedwabne massacre was “not the exception.”

“There were massive killings, of which we do not know the number, of Jews by Poles,” Gerstenfeld said. “And the Poles have not faced up to that. It hasn’t been investigated.”

Focusing on phrases like “Polish death camps” misses the point, Gerstenfeld said.

“Obviously, most of the Polish Jews were murdered by the Germans in the concentration camps,” Gerstenfeld said. And, he reiterated, the Polish government “is right in its claim that they weren’t Polish death camps; they were German death camps on Polish territory.”

But, he concluded, “The Poles have not faced up to their history and they have not been able to disprove what Gross has said.”

In a statement on his ministry’s website, Polish Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro said that the legislation approved by the cabinet last week was being advanced because ”we cannot allow those who were the victims, who suffered, to be accused and portrayed as the perpetrators or co-perpetrators of the Holocaust and the mass death and extermination camps, of the mass killings, of what remains a scar of the humanity’s conscience,” CNN reported.

The legislation still must be approved by the Polish Parliament and no timetable has been announced for that process.

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