The Tragedy and Struggle of History of Polish Jews

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This year marks the 73rd anniversary of the liberation of one of the world's most known extermination camps - Auschwitz-Birkenau, despite the passage of so many years on the international scene, there are still many inaccuracies that cause frustration among Poles. Each subsequent appearance and the appearance of the term 'polish death camp' awakens in Poles the sense of straightening out history, because they feel accused of crimes in which they are perceived as an aggressor when they were really victims. Once in a few years, it happened that a politician used the term, to which the Polish side reacted by publicizing the matter and calling for improvement of the statement. There is no need to look for examples far away, in 2012 President Barack Obama used this wording during the ceremony at the White House, giving The Presidential Medal of Freedom to Jan Karski[1]. This statement and the duplication of these erroneous formulations meant that the Polish side decided to put a “veto” on the misinterpretation of history. In Poland, for years, there has been a discussion about the possibility of including the legal and criminal path in the fight against the wording 'Polish concentration camps' or 'Polish extermination camps'.

These formulas may incorrectly suggest the responsibility of the Polish state or nation for the creation and management of concentration and extermination camps that the German Nazis organized in the Polish territories occupied during the Second World War by the Third Reich. Diplomatic services reacted and react to the appearance of such wording in the public space abroad. Politics, however, felt that it was not enough. Repeated attempts have been made to introduce into the Polish legal system provisions which introduce criminal liability for the speech of the Polish state or the Polish nation - often giving an example of the wording 'Polish camps' as an example of exposing the reputation of Poland and Poles to harm. The real avalanche of criticism, however, was caused by the Polish proposal to amend the Act on the Institute of National Remembrance from this year. According to this, in my final paper I would like to elobarte on the ongoing dispute between the involved parties (Izrael, Poland and international scene), its involvment in the issue. In addition, I will support my arguments with the opinions of scholars and journalists to give the general view of the world’s opinions in this case. At the end of my paper I would try to find a resolvment of this situation and the possible outcome. Camp’s historyWhen Hitler attacked Poland in September 1939, not only he planned to shatter the state, but also the Polish nation. The Poles, who were active in the service of Polish statehood, were to be murdered, and the remainder be turned into slaves.

In order to implement these plans, the occupant from the very beginning created camps in Polish territories. It all began in the early 1930s in the German Reich. Immediately after Adolf Hitler came to power, the Nazis began to create seclusion places for the 'enemies of the Reich'. The first concentration camp was built in Dachau near Munich in Bavaria. At the beginning, mainly political opponents of the Nazis, Jews, homosexuals and Jehovah's Witnesses came to him. Prisoners were regularly murdered and slaughtered by slave labor. In time, the camp populated with prisoners from all European countries conquered by the Germans. Dachau was a model camp for a dozen or so consecutive, equally monstrous places functioning in the German Reich. And after the aggression against Poland in 1939 - also in the occupied Polish territories. Friday, June 14, 1940 The gate of the German Auschwitz camp exceeds 728 Polish political prisoners. Germany immediately deprives them of all hope. – “You came here not to the sanatorium, but to the German concentration camp, from which there is no other way than through the chimney. If you do not like it, you can go straight for the wires. If there are Jews in transport, they have the right to live no longer than two weeks, priests - a month, the rest - three months”[2] - welcomed the prisoners Karl Fritzsch, deputy commander of the camp.

This day is considered the beginning of KL Auschwitz - the truest hell on earth. KL Auschwitz was created less than 10 months after the outbreak of the war. In the first two years of operation, the largest number of those deported to the camp were Poles. The criminal machine was constantly being expanded. On March 1, 1942, in the previously demolished village of Brzezinka, the Nazis launched the second part of the Auschwitz II-Birkenau camp. He began to play the role of the largest Nazi extermination center for Jews. In the same year, the sub-camp Auschwitz III Monowitz was established for the needs of the German IG Farbenindustrie concern. In total, the Auschwitz camp had as many as 48 sub-camps, in which prisoners carried out destructive work for the benefit of the German economy.The concentration camps were guarded by SS officers. The functions in the camp workshops, warehouses and offices were carried out by German criminal prisoners sent from camps in Germany. In the subsequent years of the war and occupation, the authorities of the Third Reich expanded the tasks of concentration camps established in Poland. Apart from the function of compulsory isolation, they carried out a program for the extermination of Jews as well as the extermination of certain groups of prisoners.

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However, history is not only numbers that we can show. Polish-Jewish relations are also a period of making tragic decisions, a period of both heroism and denucciacy. „There are no crystal nations and black and white stories, and the Polish-Jewish history is intertwined dramatically. And there are those who saved and those who were dripping „[3] Mainly, we are focusing on the saving ones, however, polish education, including polish schooling books, never hided the truth about the names of the ones who have been condemned. It is important to emphasize that the Poles who saved the lives of Jews are not invented stories, but real biographies, confirmed by books, multiple interviews, photos and even recently Oscars[4]. Great example of the contribution to helping Jews offered by Poles is also the testimony of the Żabińscy family, noone for many from the movie – The Zookeeper’s Wife. This film tells the true story of the Jews who took shelter in the Warsaw zoo. On-site help was organized by the director himself, Jan Żabiński, together with his wife Antonina.

As it turned out, the possibilities were enormous. People hid in cages for animals, in underground passages, in canals and in specially dug shelters. Some were placed in the back room of a lion's house and in internal rooms, to which normally there was no access. Almost 300 people passed through the Żabińskis' house. Their headquarters was known in the underground under the code name 'home under a crazy star'. In fact, sometimes it was more like a curiosity cabinet than an ordinary villa. But it was thanks to this that even the most endangered men could go unnoticed in this bizarre, human-animal menagerie.“The guests were filled with the futuristic architecture of the villa and the surrounding park greenery, on which forty hectares one could forget about the war and pretend to be villagers in the countryside. Eden is a relative term, escapees from the ghetto, the zoo was like a real paradise garden, with trees, animals and maternal care.”[5]

It would seem that nobody denies history. However, at the beginning of this year, it turned out that codifying it in one of the laws met with international disapproval and provoked the Polish-Isreal dispute. The entire scandal was triggered by amendments to the Act on the Institute of National Remembrance proposed by one of the political parties. The amendment to the Act on the Institute of National Remembrance, approved by the Sejm, provides that „anyone who publicly or against the facts ascribes responsibility or co-responsibility to the Polish nation or state for crimes committed by the Third German Reich or other crimes against humanity, peace and war crimes - will be subject to fines or imprisonment up to three years.“[6] The amendment was given to the President - Andrzej Duda. According to the constitution, the president signs the act within 21 days from the date of its presentation. Before signing the law, the president may apply to the Constitutional Tribunal for the compliance of the act with the constitution. The president can also veto the act, that is, pass it over to the Sejm for reconsideration. In this case the President appealed to the Tribunal for checking the conformity of the amendment to the Constitution.

The amendment went to the President and the dispute began to gain momentum. Negative comments from the Israeli side started, which emphasized that the purpose of the act is to erase the truth and punish those who will talk about it. One of the first ooposing voice were taken by the Prime Minister of Israel – Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu, who said that ““The law is baseless; I strongly oppose it. One cannot change history, and the Holocaust cannot be denied.”[7] The same opinion were showed by mentioned at the beggining Yair Lapid, who claimed that many Jews were killed by Poles and never even seen a German soldier. What is more important he kept outlining that the „camps“ where Polish. However, despite the Polish Embassy in Tel Aviv ensure that intentions of the proposed changes in the Act is “not to ‘whitewash’ the past, but to protect the truth against such slander“ many still claims that the Act aims to hide the truth and 'views uncomfortable for Polish ears'[8]. However, Polish side never mentioned „Holocaust“ or never denied that it did not happen, and it outlines that the Act is the respons for the naming of „Polish death camps“ and it is not a try to deny any of the historical events.

It is important to emphasize that many Israeli historians share the view of Polish politicians. Hawi Dreifuss, professor of Jewish history and head of the Center for Holocaust Studies in Poland at the Yad Vashem Institute, reminds that – “The camps were a project of the German Nazis and had no connection with Poland or the Polish authorities[9]”. Dreifuss reminds that Yad Vashem recognized over 6.7 thousand. Poles for Righteous Among the Nations. The Poles are the largest group who received these medals. As we see above, there are different opinions and approaches to the above matter, it evokes many emotions. I think, however, that both sides should put aside emotions and suggest what the effects will actually be caused by the amendment, which, let's not hide, is not ideal. Let us, therefore, look at the possible consequences and outcome. As noted by Dr. Grzebyk- first obstacle and the drawback of the amendment is the fact that – “Under international law, unlawful liability is assumed by the state, individuals and international organizations, but not by the nation.”[10] Secondly, the adopted definitions of international crimes are incompatible with those that are in force in international law.

The most important contradiction stems from the fact that amendments to the Act on the Institute of National Remembrance predict responsibility also in case of unintentional action. Responsibility for unintentional acts is very rare in both domestic and international law. On the basis of the above, we can conclude that most probably there were more Poles helping Jews during the Holocaust than those who murdered them or contributed to their murdering. In the first case, we are talking about several hundred thousand or a lot more than a million people, of which only some of them kept people of Jewish origin. The rest were involved in smaller or larger forms of assistance, for which, however, they were also at risk of death. The Polish state is in no way responsible for the crimes of Poles committed on Polish citizens of Jewish origin. They can only testify to the condition of our society in that inhuman time. However, the government's stance in exile in this matter was clear: Jews should be saved. Perhaps the Polish authorities could have done more in this matter. Perhaps, if not for strong places, anti-Semitic moods in pre-war Poland, then Jews during the occupation would have been saved more, and there would be fewer pogroms. It is worth bearing in mind, however, that in Poland a similar percentage of Jews survived as in other European countries, although in any other country they weren not facing the death penalty for saving Jewish people.

There were not so many Jews in any other place. For some, this is an explanation of where so many Polish Righteous came from (on the principle: they had more opportunities to save), but is it really so easy to hide Jews in towns where they made 30, 40, 50 percent. residents? How to hide half of the city ?! In Netherlands or Belgium, where so many Jews lived in the whole country, as in one Polish city, the task was much easier. Only in Poland hiding the person of Jewish nationality was threatened by the extermination of the whole family sometimes even whole villages, yet the most Righteous Among the Nations of the world comes from Poland. Finally, before each of us, based on the above information, will assess the attitude of Poland and Poles towards the mass Jews murders, I advise you to answer the following questions: Was there another country in the world that did more to save Jews during the war than Poland? Would you be able to risk your and your relatives to save a stranger? Summing up, I strongly believe that the dispute that arised because of the missunderstanding of the intention of proposed amendment will not have drastic consequences in the relation between Israel and Poland. However, I think i tis nmecessary to finally clarify and show on international idea that Poland is not willing to attribute her to the name of an aggressor. Let us be aware, however, that the consequences of this law are impossible to enforce from the point of view of international law. However, this dispute turned the eyes of the whole world to the problem that appeared due to the lack of information, I think that this is a positive aspect of the whole situation, because the Polish party is finally listened to in its appeal for the truth about concentration camps, but does not deny it, that there were people among Poles who did not decide to help Jews. Poland does not conceal the truth about Jedwabne, does not approve of those who issued Jews, because they were alsosuch people among Poles, but emphasizes that individual decisions can not be a pretext to assign Poles the most terrible hell in the world- concentration camps.

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