Why Would Any Jews Spend Money in Poland?
Approximately three million Jews — 90% of Polish Jewry — were murdered during World War II on Polish soil.
The majority of them perished in concentration and death camps, such as Auschwitz, Sobibor, Majdanek, Chelmno, Plaszow, Belzec and Treblinka. Others were murdered in killing pits, after having dug their own graves.
In addition to Polish Jews, more than 500,000 other Jews were killed in these death and concentration camps. Many believe that the major killing camps were specifically located in Poland — because it was fertile ground for antisemitism, and it was thought that the murder of Jews would be readily accepted there.
In sharp contrast, look at Bulgaria. Dimitar Peshev, a former Bulgarian minister of justice, was recognized as righteous among the nations for his role in blocking the deportation of 48,000 Bulgarian Jews — saving them from certain death.
Recently, the Polish government passed a law stating that “whoever accuses publicly and against the facts, the Polish nation, or the Polish state, of being responsible or complicit in the Nazi crimes committed by the third German Reich shall be subject to a fine or penalty of imprisonment up to three years.”
Israel, the United States, France and other nations have characterized this law as a sordid attempt to whitewash the Holocaust — and rewrite European and Polish history.
Poland alleges that Poles were not involved in the persecution and killing of Jews during World War II. However, it has yet to explain the following inconvenient truths:
1. Prior to World War II, thousands of Polish Jews had taken up temporary residence in Germany and Austria. Many of these Jews wanted to return to their homes and families in Poland. In order to prevent the Jews from coming back, however, the Polish government passed a law that revoked the citizenship of people who did not renew their passports in 1938.
The New York Times reported that this law specifically targeted the Jewish population, and was “designed mainly to prevent their return.” Approximately 50,000 Jews were impacted by this antisemitic law. And we know the fate of the Jews that became trapped in the hands of the Germans.
2. In July 1941, the Polish residents of the town of Jedwabne, turned on their Jewish neighbors — massacring 1,500 Jews, including those that they herded into a barn and burned alive. There are countless other stories with very similar circumstances.
3. According to Jan Gross, professor of history at Princeton University, Polish citizens during World War II were responsible for the deaths of thousands of Jews — and some accounts put this number at over 100,000.
4. Despite the fact that some Jews were saved by Poles (who often received money in return for safekeeping), there were many incidents where the Polish farmers took the money and murdered their “guests.” In countless other cases, the Polish posed as saviors — then turned Jews over to the Nazis.
5. Some of the few Polish Jews who survived the Holocaust returned to their hometowns to look for any surviving relatives. On July 4, 1946, Polish antisemites massacred over 40 survivors of concentration camps who had returned to the city of Kielce. There were other examples of this phenomenon throughout Poland.
6. Poland appropriated the property of Jewish families that were persecuted during the Holocaust. According to a report issued by the Polish government in 2012, Poland has over $10 billion of Jewish property in its hands. By all accounts, they have refused to return the stolen property to the rightful heirs.
Despite all of the above, the current Polish government has passed legislation to outlaw anyone from speaking out about the collaboration of Poles in the persecution of Jews during the Holocaust. The implications of this law are clear. If one were to express the opinion of Polish complicity during World War II, that individual will be subject to a three-year jail sentence.
We, as a Jewish community, must protest this injustice.
More than 250,000 people have participated in the March of the Living — visiting concentration camps in Poland, and later traveling to Israel. Undoubtedly, this is an emotional and memorable experience. But it also provides the Polish government with millions of tourist dollars. Money is spent on airfare, hotels, food, tour guides, buses, etc.
In light of Polish antisemitism — past and present — and in light of Poland’s attempt to whitewash the Holocaust and change history, why are Jewish tours promoting trips to Poland? Just last week, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki accused the Jews of being perpetrators of the Holocaust.
The Czech Republic, which is currently a staunch supporter of Israel, would be an ideal alternative for the March of the Living. Participants could be taken to Theresienstadt. Approximately 33,000 Jews were murdered there, and 100,000 were deported from there to Auschwitz and other killing camps. Participants can also see the ancient Pinkas synagogue in Prague, which is inscribed with the names of 80,000 Jews who died in the Holocaust. The Charles Bridge — which contains a crucifix with Hebrew inscriptions — is also an important historical reminder of antisemitism in Europe.
Efforts by governments around the world to push Poland to change its despicable law will fall on deaf ears, so as long as Jews continue to visit their country. Poland has over $10 billion in Jewish money — why give them another zloty?
Rabbi Zev Friedman is the rosh mesivta, dean of Rambam Mesivta for Boys and Shalhevet High School for Girls.