Yad Vashem slams Israeli-Polish Holocaust declaration as ‘contradiction to history’

Israeli politicians and historians slammed a joint declaration absolving the Polish people from responsibility for the destruction of Polish Jewry.

By: Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Huge ads in Israeli and European papers bearing a copy of the joint Israeli-Polish declaration on the Holocaust reignited an attack on the Israeli government for purportedly helping the Poles downplay their role in the destruction of Poland’s Jewish community.

Yad Vashem said in a statement that “the [Israeli-Polish] statement contains highly problematic wording that contradicts existing and accepted historical knowledge in this field.

“The joint statement’s wording effectively supports a narrative that research has long since disproved, namely, that the Polish Government-in-Exile and its underground arms strove indefatigably—in occupied Poland and elsewhere—to thwart the extermination of Polish Jewry.”

Yad Vashem noted that “Poles’ assistance to Jews during the Holocaust was relatively rare, and attacks against and even the murder of Jews were widespread phenomena.”

Yad Vashem “vehemently” rejected the “attempts to juxtapose the phenomenon of anti-Semitism with so-called ‘anti-Polonism.’”

The declaration called to denounce both anti-Semitism and “anti-Polonism.”

“While we should put an end to the use of the misleading and ill-conceived concept of ‘Polish death camps,’ calling the use of such terms ‘anti-Polonism’ is fundamentally anachronistic and has nothing whatsoever to do with anti-Semitism.”

Education Minister Naftali Bennett called the declaration a “disgrace saturated with lies that betrays the memory of those who perished in the Holocaust.”

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“As minister of education, entrusted with passing on the memory of the Holocaust, I reject it completely. It has no factual basis and won’t be learned in the education system,” Bennett tweeted on Thursday.

Zionist Union MK Itzik Shmuli said that the ad campaign “is the height of insult and disgrace, and Holocaust deniers must send a huge bouquet of flowers to the Israeli government and its leader, who put the memory of those who perished up for negotiations and sale.”

The Prime Minister’s Office said in response that Yad Vashem’s chief historian, Dina Porat, accompanied the process that led to the joint statement from the beginning, and that the “historical statements that appear in the declaration were approved by her.”

The PMO further stated that the joint declaration approved by the Polish government includes a clear statement that the freedom of researchers to conduct research on all aspects of the Holocaust will be preserved.”

Noted historian: Israeli government accepted Polish position

Noted Israeli Holocaust historian Yehuda Bauer went much further, however. In an op-ed in Haaretz published last week he charged, “We accepted the false Polish narrative, and swallowed it.”

“If we now come to the Americans or the Europeans to complain against what is happening in this area [Holocaust denial] in Poland, we will be rightly told that the Israeli government has accepted the Polish position. I do not know what it was – ignorance, stupidity, or a clear anti-moral victory of fleeting interests that will remain with us forever. Or simply: betrayal,” Bauer said.

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He also believes that the way the law stands now, historians and others who write the truth about what Poles did during the Holocaust will still be able to be sued in civil court even if they won’t be able to be fined (or jailed) by a criminal court.

The understanding reached last week between the Polish and Israeli governments led Warsaw to revise its Holocaust law. The Polish parliament agreed to drop the penalties (which could reach up to three years in jail) for those who blamed the Polish government for the Holocaust, or said that Poles as a nation had collaborated with Germany after Israel agreed to the joint declaration.

Here is a video of journalist Ronen Bergman confronting Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki:

This week a Polish NGO took out large ads in “the world’s largest daily newspapers,” including Thursday’s Israeli papers, with the text of the declaration. Fiery reactions swept in immediately.

Critics, point to the number of sentences in the declaration that extol Polish behavior under Nazi control, thereby downplaying the part so many Poles played in either directly harming their Jewish neighbors or turning them over to the Germans.

Holocaust researchers in Poland were “stunned”  that the Israeli government “fell in line with the Polish line that diminishes or downplays the part played by the Poles in the Holocaust,” reported Kan Israel News on Thursday.

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And Yad Vashem was not consulted at all by those who negotiated the text with the Poles, according to Kan, which “shocked them” no less than the final wording of the declaration itself, which they say minimizes Poland’s role in the Holocaust.

When the declaration was signed, Prime Minister Benjamin  Netanyahu had also stressed the importance of defending academic freedom regarding the events of World War II.

“We stood up for defending the truth and fulfilled our chief duty: To guarantee the historical truth of the Holocaust,” he said. “This is how we’ll continue to act.”

According to Netanyahu’s statement, “We support free and open historical expression and research on all aspects of the Holocaust so that it can be conducted without any fear of legal obstacles,” adding that those who talk or write about it “will not be subject to any legal charges for using the right to free speech and academic freedom with reference to the Holocaust.”