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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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  • Szloma

    To all the Jewish trying to blame the Polish for holocaust caused by germans read it and learn it and never forget:


  • I started my search for comprehension of The Holocaust with a little known detail, a place called Sokoly where Jews were Murdered by Poles. A 4 year old Girl, Tovah ‘Tokele’ Olshak was murdered, because she too was a Jew, by Poles.

  • You have courage to display it.

  • Igor Rubenstein

    Unfortunately again israeli journalists are insinuating polish role in antisemitic incidents. You didn’t mention, that Poland during Jedwabne and Kielce mass murder was under occupation of Germany and Soviet Union which means, that Poles should take no responsobility for these incidents. Additionaly unfortunately pro-israeli societies in Poland are against exhumation of murdered Jews which is vital for righteous investigation. According to law of UN all resposibility of mass murder takes occupant of certain country

  • Henry Kemoni

    The murder of innocent Jews in Concentration camps is a dark chapter in our history. Further, Hitler made Poland a nation of slaves and cases of German troops brutality against Jewish poles are well documented .

    Poles were equally victims of Hitlers brutality. Proposed legislation should acknowledge heroes/heroines who assisted Jewss ans well as members of the Polish resistance who were sent to concentration camps outside Poland and focus on healing.

  • Marcus

    1939 to middle 1950s in Stalinist/bolshevic’s occupide Europe large part of thet system were Polands Jewish colaborators. In consequance, thousands of Poles, Hungarians and others had been executed by Stalin’s government or died in the harsh conditions of the labor camps. For example, “anti-religion” Jakub Berman, Joseph Stalin’s right hand in the People’s Republic of Poland – in charge of the Ministry of Public Security – the largest secret police in Polish history and one of its most repressive institutions. More likely, he approved and control of Kielce incident. For decades, that was the way of systematically planned massacres and cleansing of Christians, freedom society and others in the Soviet occupied Europe. And, a red-Jews were a large part of that anti-Christ brutal machine. Yes, we like peace-oriented Jews and Jewish culture. But not extremists

  • Re: Minister Ziobro:
    I am writing to state facts. At the age of 13 I was the oldest child in a group of 80 Jews including 20 children that were sent to the Ravensbruck Concentration camp for Women in February 1944. 50,000 women were to perish there.

    That camp had been established in 1939 which means that the women incarcerated there by and large had not had access to their own children since then. The arrival of our group created great excitement amongst them and most could not forbear to fuss over these Jewish children, especially the infants.

    Not so the Polish women. We were placed in their barrack for some four months. NOT ONCE DID I OBSERVE A HUMAN GESTURE FROM THESE WOMEN TOWARDS A JEWISH CHILD. Never a smile, a hug, a kind word or a pat on the head. During those months the only Polish expression I learned as a child was: “Zhid pshakrev!” which is not nice.

    Fast forward to 2015 and I was sent on a March of the Living as a Holocaust instructor to visit the Death camps in Poland.

    My main interest was seeing the reactions of the new Polish generation to us. The camps itself by then I already knew much about.

    We were a group of some 150 Jews from the Western World and would begin to visit the sights of torture and massacre from early in the morning until the evening when the Polish population would be either going or coming from work.

    This was 70 years after WW2. Two new generations had arrisen. I observed these people closely as we passed them. We were identifiable by blue jackets and tags showing the Star of David and our particulars.

    Most averted their eyes. Those that did not, did not look upon us with favour. Was this the true picture or was I still under the influence of the concentration camp?

    The answer came soon. We traveled in four busses, each with its own plain-clothed Polish policeman. Occasionally I passed places of special interest to me and I would ask the driver to stop the bus so that I could alight and investigate. On one such occasion the policeman asked me to hide the tag that identified me as a Jew.

    So what had changed during those past 70 years?

    • KM

      If you would think for a second that those women would help, your stupid. You have so much hate against them, do you? Most of those women probably lost their families to the Germans, so you think they would replace with you and your friends? No! they were mourning idiot! They wouldn’t look at you and say “oh look, a Jewish boy! I could replace my family with him! What a smart Idea!” In those camps, it was every person for yourself, helping would get you killed.
      Also, those people couldn’t look at you because they felt bad for you. I know what your thinking: a Pole feeling bad? Phff. Nahh! Well your wrong. When a person fells bad for someone, they usually dont look at you in the face. That’s what I do and thats what you prpably do.
      Also, “Zhid pshakrev!” is not Polish. If you want to write something in Polish, write it correctly,
      ty głupi Żyd!

  • David Solly Sandler

    I believe this is also so for Lithuania and Austria. They have not faced up to their history and support for the Holocaust.

    In Lithuania they have a Genocide Museum which does not mention the 200,000 Jews they enthusiastically helped murder. Also they honour some of those involved in the murder of Jews.

    Austrian courts dismissed and trivialized cases of Austrian Nazis involved in the murder of Jews
    presented by Simon Wiesenthal.

    Also there is no documentation of the Holocaust in Austria in their two Jewish Museums in Venice.

  • nat cheiman

    They are caught between a rock and a hard place. I don’t blame them for vacillating .

  • richard sherwin

    no can gets trump to ‘total disclosure’ of income tax. holland and france of collaborators. took decades to get swiss to turn loose stolen (oops — saved) jewish bank accounts. or fellow xns in hungary to upchuck their super-nazi slaughter of jews after nazis fled. at least poland still supports israeli jews survival. so far. so cut them some slack. huh? at least de facto they behave as if their consciences do niggle them now and then. and then, of course, there’s sweden, the land of the free moslems and the home of the raped.

  • Ron DeJohn

    How dumb is that? Polish citizens were one of the gas chambers top occupants…

    Do they have history books in Poland?

  • Myron Slater

    I am of Polish ancestry, some of my ancestors were Polish and some were German Jews. As late ad the 1970’s, a Jewish cemetery in the Polish town of Balistock, was vandalized by the townspeople. The hate of the Jews is still there! I now have no record of my past!

  • fred

    The above article is of interest. Roumanian claims are similar only 24 Jews were murdered apparently several hundred thousands evaporated or fled to non existent Israel. The murder that took place in Bukovina, Besarabia & the rest of Roumania fill Roumanians with idignation. The notorious death camps of Transnistria & the massacres of Odessa seem not to have the publicity it deserves. Shame on Europe that participated more than willingly in these murders wants a clean sheet but alas it is a bloody sheet.

  • Gerstenfeld has not “faced up to” all conduct during the Nazi and Russian occupation of the nation. How about the conduct of Bolshevik Jews in Russian occupied eastern Poland or the Kresy border lands? Very few Poles were left alive to document it or to communicate from Siberian Gulags.There are several unpublished diaries that were left behind with some of the details. Come on there is plenty of guilt to go around. There are criminal elements in every nation of every nationality ready to act unlawfully and atrociously when they have the opportunity. The plan from the start was for the Russians to cite Poles turning in Jews to Nazi’s in the west of the country and fabricating if necessary stories of Jews helping Soviets harm Poles in the eastern part of the country. They did a good job of dividing the Poles and Jews and conquering. Many Jews saved Poles in the east but were killed by advancing Nazi’s. There was so much pain and suffering for the Polish nation and its citizens of all religions and ethnicity that I for one wonder why the amazing accomplishments of pre-war Poland and the close way the communities in the country lived together with almost no strife is never mentioned. Please let us hear some progress for the future not harp on the pain of the past. I cannot believe how nowadays young people believe it was Poland that killed 6,000,000 European Jews. No one mentions how Pilsudski granted 600,000 Jewish refugees displace by WW I citizenship in the New Poland after the defeat of the Red Army. The Poles and Jews share a close history that lasted for over 1,000 years without killing one another and coexisting in the same space and time. I think that is much more remarkable than the madness that was Nazi occupied Poland.

  • reuven


    Achai Yisroel,

    Poland has made no move to restore Jewish property taken by the Nazis and their helpers in WWII to the Jews despoiled or their heirs.

    WWII ended in 1945.

    RZ ha’Lewi

    22 Av 5776

  • diane

    Well that’s how some cowardly people are they do not learn and take responsibility to manning up and just say we are sorry for being cowards and not standing up against Evil… also for not learning to be good human beings by defending their friends and neighbors unless they all wanted to steal what belong to the Jewish people like their homes and businesses etc… Just like most of the world that joined into the hate and took advantage of the Jewish people during that time, just like the whole world is doing now becoming a bunch of little Nazis and still doing it today and turning there back on the Jews, Hell Yea, it’s called haters and antisemitism. Wake up it’s also called being just plain old Evil people. No one wants to learn or care from the past, they are all seeing and doing it now. Also there’s very few Polish that you can be proud of that did apologize, for example there was one famous name that we will always remember and she was Corrie ten Boom.
    We also have to remember of how many Polish people died in the hands of those sick fanatic loser Nazis.

    • Marcus

      To Diane
      “Well that’s how some cowardly people are they do not learn and take responsibility to manning up and just say we are sorry for being cowards and not standing up against Evil…”

      Explain Diane, why free Jews from US, England (and free World) did not help your very own. Now, is too late.

  • I asked Rabbi Yisroel Belsky zt’l about this matter at the time that the movie about the Bielsky Brothers was in the theaters.

    He said that the Jews in the resistance were given a few minutes head start after the war ended to avoid being slaughtered by their fellow “resistance” fighters.

    Our Polish maid Jenny characterized the typical block of Poles as “those who murdered Jews”, “those who told the Nazis about their Jewish neighbors”, “those who turned their eyes away” and “those who helped their Jewish friends”, who apparently were few and far between, as they risked their family’s lives.

    In short, the vast majority of Poles were either active or passively involved in murdering Jews. Of course there were many, but not enough righteous Gentiles who risked their lives including Priests and Nuns.

  • Michal Karski

    Am in total agreement with Mr Gerstenfeld about the ‘Polish death camp’ terminology, but the above article does not make quite clear who exactly put Jews into ghettos in Poland after the 1939 invasion. (Answer: it was not the subjugated Poles who did this).

    Although I’m not a huge fan of the present Polish government, or the kind of gung-ho nationalism they seem to represent, nevertheless I think it is not a question of them disproving what Jan T Gross has said, but rather Jan Gross himself proving that Poles did indeed murder more Jews than Germans, which seems to be an extremely contentious assertion.

    Where are the statistics to support this claim, Jan? You have to admit this seems highly unlikely, given the various theatres of war in which Polish forces fought against the Nazis? Would you like to share your sources? Or have you just made a huge mistake?

  • Nelson Marans

    It is well known that prior to World War II, the Polish Assembly enacted extremely anti-semitic laws. Obviously, they share guilt in the Holocaust because of past activities hostile toward Jews. No statement by the Poles can ignore the truth.

  • oneachvaiznotenuf

    In reality very few Poles had Jewish blood on their hands. Even though the Poles were, and are, rather anti-Semitic most of them wouldn’t actually kill a Jew. For one thing, there was no need, the Germans were there to that job for them, for another, it’s just not in the Polish nature to organize anything, even killings, all that much. Now a few random villages massacring their Jews (even after the war), that’s one thing, but to spend all that time coordinating mass murder, that’s just not part of the Polish character. Now Cardinal Glemp may very well have been an exception to that, but at least he had only a pulpit and a radio broadcast and no divisions.

  • Rachel Cohen

    Poland is dominated by extreme Roman Catholicism–don’t expect anything good of the Poles. Papal sycophancy renders people pathetic.

  • Theodore Herlich

    Anna Bikont’s recent book, “The Crime and The Silence” about the massacre of Jews in Jedwabne indicates that as many as 1,600 Jews were burned alive in a barn by POLES, in the days following an identical event in Radzilow.

  • Kevin Michalski

    Okay this is just a bunch of lies. Their is not one fact that can show that Polish citizens cooperated with the Germans in finding Jews, and why would they? The Polish Jews were being killed as much as the regular Catholic Poles. So please stop telling the world this garbage. And Manfred Gerstenfeld should really do back to basic history, AS HE KNOWS NOTHING ABOUT IT!!!

  • Jay

    Very bias point of view displayed by the article’s author!

    When you make statements like this “On the other hand, they killed Jews.” It shows that the author has not taken into account proportionality. Two pogroms do not equal to the Holocaust, which was perpetrated by Nazi Germany.

    Also, the author blurs the line between separate issues. The pogroms were the result of mob violence. The death camps were a separate matter, and were part of a very unique system built and organized by Nazi Germany.

    So, why does the author object to banning of the misleading term “Polish death camps”? Even if some Jews were killed by a Polish mob, this has nothing to do with the German death camps built in Poland.