Holocaust denial and revisionism in Poland
FIRST, SOME DEFINITIONS
HOLOCAUST DENIAL is an antisemitic conspiracy that asserts that the Holocaust is either a myth, an exaggeration, or a fabrication.
Holocaust denial takes many forms. Sometimes it’s outright denial that the Holocaust happened. More often, it’s a distortion of established facts about the Holocaust. This is known as HOLOCAUST REVISIONISM.
Holocaust denial is not always Holocaust revisionism, but Holocaust revisionism is always Holocaust denial.
A specific form of Holocaust denial and revisionism is known as Holocaust inversion. Holocaust inversion is the act of depicting Jews as N*zis, crypto-N*zis, or genocide perpetrators. Holocaust inversion is a rhetorical tool used to portray Jews as morally equivalent (or worse) than the N*zis. For more on this topic, see my post HOLOCAUST INVERSION IS HOLOCAUST DENIAL.
The World War II occupation of Poland by Germany and the Soviet Union (1939-1945) was completely devastating to the Polish population. Hundreds of thousands of non-Jewish Poles were deported to work camps, where thousands were murdered. About 3 million non-Jewish Polish citizens died during the course of the war as a result of bombings, food shortages, executions, and more. Over 4000 Polish children who passed racial, physical, and psychological tests were deported to Germany due to a policy of “Germanization” (in other words, they were stolen from their Polish parents and given to German families). All in all, about 22 percent of the Polish population died in World War II, the highest of any country.
By contrast, 90 percent of Polish Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. This astronomical percentage of deaths was only possible due to widespread Polish collaboration with the German regime.
To call out Poland’s antisemitic behavior prior to, during, and after the Holocaust is in no way a denial or diminishing of the suffering of the non-Jewish Polish population. To deny well-established historical facts about Polish behavior during the Holocaust, however, is Holocaust revisionism and denial.
Jews have lived in Poland since the Middle Ages. Most arrived in the thirteenth century, seeking refuge from Crusader violence in Western Europe. The 1264 Statute of Kalisz afforded Jews legal protections, and by the fourteenth century, the Jewish community thrived. By the 18th century, however, the relatively peaceful existence for Polish Jews drastically declined. With the partitions of Poland, most Jews came under the rule of the Russian Empire. The Russians imposed severe geographic and professional restrictions on the Jewish population. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, a series of violent anti-Jewish massacres known as pogroms ravaged the Russian Empire (including Poland). Jewish communities were destroyed, ransacked, looted, murdered, and even sexually assaulted en masse.
Poland gained independence after World War I. With this independence came a wave of Polish nationalism. Poles considered Jews foreign and untrustworthy, and as such, this nationalism made Poland an increasingly hostile place for Jews. By the eve of the Holocaust, Jews were Poland’s largest minority, constituting about 10 percent of the population.
90 percent of Polish Jews — about 3 million people — were murdered in the relatively short span of the German occupation of Poland (1939-1945). By contrast, the Germans deployed about 80,000 SS members to Poland during the war. In other words, Polish Jews drastically outnumbered the SS forces. The only reason 3 million Polish Jews could be murdered during the Holocaust was due to widespread Polish collaboration and, more significantly, indifference and complicity.
It’s estimated that 5 percent of the Polish population ACTIVELY collaborated with the Germans, while 25 percent ACTIVELY resisted the occupation. However, almost every single non-Jewish Pole was indifferent to the German persecution of Jews. Even those that actively resisted the occupation were not much interested in saving or helping Jews at best and at worst were complicit (see next slide). It’s estimated that around 4000 Poles actively acted as blackmailers and informants for the Germans. As many as several hundred thousand worked for the Germans as government officials, police officers, and more.
Polish citizens also perpetrated anti-Jewish massacres during the war. For instance, in 1941, non-Jewish Polish civilians engaged in a premeditated mass murder in the town of Jedwabne. Jews were dragged out of their homes, forced to pull weeds between cobblestones, beaten, forced to dance, and mocked in various ways. A group of 40-50 Jewish men were made to tear down a Lenin statue and bury it into a pit. Then they were murdered and thrown into that same pit. About 300 Jews, including women and children, were locked inside a barn and burned alive. As recently as 2011, the Jedwabne memorial was vandalized with swastikas.
The Armia Krajowa, also known as the Home Army, was the main Polish resistance movement during World War II. In the discussion of Polish collaboration, indifference, and complicity during the Holocaust, the role of the Home Army is undoubtedly the most contentious. The hero status of the Home Army in Poland makes a nuanced conversation about their role in the persecution of Jews all but impossible.
First, it’s important to note that it was courier Jan Karaski of the Home Army that delivered the first eyewitness accounts of the Holocaust to the Western powers. While the Home Army sometimes collaborated with the Jewish partisans (an example being during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising), the attitude of the Home Army was that Jews were “not a part of our nation.” The Home Army was mostly preoccupied with seeking independence from German rule, not with the Holocaust or the plight of Jews.
In 1943, after the Germans captured the previous Home Army commander, the new commander, a sympathizer with the antisemitic rightwing National Party, ensured that the Home Army no longer provide aid or arms to Jews. With its new leadership, the Home Army became openly antisemitic, culminating in acts of mass murder. In July 1943, this same commander ordered that “Jewish communist bands” were “liquidated at once with total ruthlessness.” In December 1943, a Home Army report stated, “There is certain sympathy for the Jews. It is better, however, that they are no longer here and no one desires to see them return after the war.”
It’s estimated that around 2000 Jewish Holocaust survivors were murdered at the hands of Polish citizens between the end of the war and 1946.
At the end of the war, the newly established communist regime in Poland prevented Jews from recovering property confiscated during the Holocaust as a “preventative measure” to keep wealth from “unproductive and parasite factors.” Even so, some Jews attempted to recover their old property and homes in Poland. When they returned to their old homes, these Jews were often robbed, assaulted, or even murdered by locals. Anti-Jewish massacres in Poland in the aftermath of the Holocaust were also common. The first post-Holocaust pogrom was the Krakow pogrom, which took place in August of 1945. After that, pogroms spread to 11 other Polish cities.
The most significant post-Holocaust pogrom in Poland was the Kielce pogrom in July of 1946. Around 200 Jewish Holocaust survivors returned to Kielce, Poland at the end of the war, many of whom were originally from Kielce and others who were passing through as refugees. They lived together in a makeshift refugee center. Starting in the summer of 1946, false claims that Jews were kidnapping Polish children spread around Kielce. In response, police approached the refugee center. This drew the attention of the local residents. A Jewish man was arrested and beaten, though he was let go when the police realized the claims were obviously false. However, the police then claimed that Jews were causing a political provocation, so they dispatched soldiers and police to the building. Soon, a civilian mob broke into the building. The soldiers were egged on by the crowd and dragged Jews out of the house, passing them on to the mob. Jews were shot, beaten, and even thrown out windows. All of this culminated in the murder of 42 Jews.
“I would like to mention that as a former prisoner of concentration camps I have not gone through an experience like this. I have seen very little sadism and b*stiality of this scale.” — Kielce pogrom survivor
REVISIONIST LAWS TODAY
Antisemitism is alive and well in Poland today. Most of the remaining community was expelled following the 1968 Polish political crisis. To this day, “Lucky Jew” figurines and portraits of Jews holding money are sold over souvenir shops all over the country. Poland also profits from “Holocaust tourism” (e.g. people visiting concentration camps, ghettos, etc. Though entrance is free, tourists, many of them Jews, still contribute significantly to the Polish tourist economy).
Most alarmingly, however, Poland continues to persecute historians and journalists that expose Poland’s role in the Holocaust. Last year, a Polish court ruled that a Holocaust scholar had to apologize for claiming her deceased uncle had helped kill Jews during World War II. The Polish League Against Defamation has aligned with Poland’s ruling party to bury accounts of Polish collaboration during the war.
A Polish law passed in 1998 now makes it illegal — punishable up to 3 years — to accuse Poland of responsibility or complicity with the Germans during the Holocaust (in other words, I could theoretically be imprisoned for 3 years for making this post). Civil charges can also be brought to anyone who defames or tarnishes the reputation of the country or its citizens.
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