‘Fake History:’ Former ADL Chief Abraham Foxman Slams Polish President’s Speech at Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Commemoration
One of America’s most storied campaigners against antisemitism and racial hatred slammed Polish President Andrzej Duda on Thursday for espousing “fake history,” after the Polish leader claimed — in a speech honoring the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising — that the Jewish fighters in the ghetto had died “for Poland.”
“Poland needs decent democratic leadership and President Duda frequently rose to that role,” Abraham Foxman, the national director emeritus of the Anti-Defamation League, and the head of an antisemitism study program at the Museum of Jewish Heritage — A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in New York City, told The Algemeiner. “Today’s speech was a major setback.”
Addressing an official remembrance ceremony at the Ghetto Heroes Monument in Warsaw on Thursday, Duda paid tribute to the hundreds of Jewish fighters who, on the night of April 19, 1943, took up arms against German troops who had been ordered to finally raze the ghetto and deport all of its remaining inhabitants to the Nazi death camps. After sustaining more than 300 dead and wounded as a result of the fierce resistance waged by the Jewish fighters for nearly a month, the Germans eventually liquidated the Warsaw Ghetto on May 16.
Duda praised the Jewish resistance for having demonstrated “to the Germans that Jews would not be defeated so easily and trampled upon.” But the Polish president sparked anger with his claim that the ghetto fighters had “died fighting for dignity, for freedom, but also for Poland, because they were Polish citizens.”
“Polish Jews were singled out as Jews, they were segregated as Jews, they were persecuted as Jews, they fought and died as Jews – not as Poles but as Jews,” Foxman, who was rescued by his Polish Catholic nanny from the clutches of the Nazis before being reunited with his parents in 1944, asserted. “No amount of distortion will change that.”
A leading American Jewish scholar of the Holocaust, Mordecai Paldiel, similarly questioned Duda’s claim that the ghetto fighters had died for Poland.
“Most of the people who led the uprising belonged to Zionist youth organizations,” said Dr. Paldiel — the author of several books on the Nazi period, who served for more than 20 years as director of the “Righteous Among Nations” department at Yad Vashem, Israel’s official Holocaust memorial, honoring the thousands of non-Jews who rescued Jews from the Nazis and their local collaborators.
“Their goal was to get out of Poland, one or way or another, and get to Eretz Israel,” Paldiel said. “I don’t think they saw themselves as dying for Poland.”
An estimated 750 Jewish fighters took part in the uprising, which combined the efforts of two poorly-armed resistance groups — the left-wing Jewish Fighting Organization (ZOB) and the pro-revisionist Jewish Military Union (ZZW). Historians of the Nazi period have hotly debated whether the Polish underground could have done more to aid the ghetto’s Jews.
Duda’s speech commemorating the uprising showcased the thinking behind the recently-passed amendment to the IPN Act — the country’s law governing the commemoration of World War II — that criminalizes public discussion of Polish collusion with the Nazi authorities with up to three years imprisonment.
“There were Poles who helped Jews, treating them like brothers, like fellow citizens,” Duda said. “And that is why I am sure that whenever anyone talks about the responsibility or co-responsibility of the Polish state for the Holocaust, that person hurts the feelings of Poles but also the feelings of Polish Jews. Not only is it slander but it also blurs the responsibility of the true executioners, the German Nazis.”
Foxman decried these views as “insulting to the memory of the heroic fighters of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.”
“The moral equivalency is shocking, and continues to distort the horrific story of the Shoah,” Foxman emphasized. “Yes, Poles were victims — but they were also victimizers.”
Recalled Foxman, “I was saved by Poles, but some of my aunts and uncles were killed by Poles, or sold out by Poles. No legislation will cover that up, and no fake history speech will change it.”
While the German authorities were responsible for building and operating the concentration camps, slave labor factories and crematoria at Auschwitz, Treblinka and other locations in Poland, native antisemitic propaganda and violence were established facts of life for the country’s 3 million Jews in the two decades of independence prior to the German invasion in 1939. “There was no political collaboration between the Poles and the Germans, because the Nazis wanted only to incorporate Poland as a German province,” Dr. Paldiel explained. “But when it came to killing Jews, then it was a completely different story.”
Paldiel reflected that during his 24 years at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, 15,000 names had been added to the list of Righteous Among Nations. “Several thousand of them were Poles,” he said. “In my estimation, those Poles who risked their lives and saved Jews faced much greater risks than those who did the same in other countries occupied by the Nazis — but the risks came from fellow Poles as well as from the Germans.”
Many Warsaw residents wore daffodils pinned to their clothes on Thursday, in a tradition started five years ago by the capital’s POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews.
The daffodils were a tribute to the late Marek Edelman — one of the military commanders of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising — who received a bouquet of the flowers from an anonymous sender on the anniversary each year, which he would then place at the monument to the ghetto fighters.