There was good reason why Polish President Andrzej Duda was prevented from addressing the Holocaust memorial event in Israel this week. The organizers anticipated he would use the event to make ugly and foolish accusations against Russia for having alleged complicity in the Nazi genocide.
On being refused the opportunity to make such a speech, Duda then decided to cancel his attendance altogether. Such is the thin-skin of Polish sensitivity.
Nearly 50 world leaders participated in the fifth World Holocaust Forum held at the Yad Vashem remembrance center in Jerusalem. This year’s event had added significance because it coincided with the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz on January 27, 1945.
Lest we forget, it was the Soviet Red Army which liberated Auschwitz and the other main Nazi extermination camps, which were all predominantly located in Poland.
Russian President Vladimir Putin was among a handful of leaders who were given the privilege to address the forum. Other speakers included U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, French President Emmanuel Macron, Britain’s Prince Charles and Germany’s President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
By what presumption did the Polish leader think he had a right to speak at the forum over the dozens of other dignitaries who were not given the privilege to make an address? Not being indulged by the organizers, President Duda went into an infantile huff.
The background to this spat was the furious reaction from Poland’s nationalist politicians after President Putin reminded the country last month that it has a certain share of blame along with Germany’s Nazi regime for having perpetrated the Holocaust during the World War II.
In his speech at the Holocaust forum this week, Putin did not mention Poland by name, but he reiterated the indisputable fact that European countries – at least sections of their political class – had collaborated with the German Third Reich in carrying out the Final Solution which led to millions of deaths among Jews, Slavs, Roma and Soviet citizens.
To be sure, millions of Polish Jews and non-Jews were exterminated by the Nazi genocidal machine. And, yes, thousands of Polish citizens heroically resisted the Nazi occupiers.
Nevertheless, the Polish political leadership during the 1930s flirted with Hitler and his regime right up to the start of the war on September 1, 1939, when Nazi Germany invaded Poland. The Polish leadership also concurred with the anti-Semitic policies of the Third Reich. Anti-Jewish pogroms were rife in Poland during the late 1930s.
Poland has always been apt to deny its involvement in Nazi crimes. But in recent years, under the ruling nationalist party, the habit of denial has become frenzied. In 2018, the Warsaw government introduced a new law which forbade anyone accusing Poland of past complicity in the Nazi Holocaust. That move sparked international criticism for what many saw as an attempt to launder Poland’s dirty past.
Last year, the Polish government launched sharp criticism at the U.S. media company Netflix over a film about the Nazi death camps. The Poles objected to the depiction of the camps being situated in Poland, insisting that the territory was not Polish at the time but rather “Nazi-occupied Poland”. That’s absurd hairsplitting to avoid reality.
At least when France’s President Macron addressed the Holocaust forum this week, he acknowledged the shameful role his country played under the collaborationist Vichy regime in transporting tens of thousands of French Jews to their deaths at Auschwitz.
There is no way that the current Polish leadership would ever have the integrity or maturity to make similar acknowledgement. Because these vain Polish nationalists are too obsessed with a mental affliction of Russophobia and the need to re-write history in order to burnish their country’s sordid past.
In a recent opinion article, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki had the effrontery to accuse Russia of falsifying history. He disparaged “Soviet history” which, he said, claims the Soviet forces liberated Auschwitz and the death camps, as well as the rest of Poland from Nazi oppression.
That’s not “Soviet history”. It is objective, documented history.
Morawiecki wrote: “In reality, it was the alliance between Nazi Germany and the USSR in 1939 that paved the way for the start of World War II. The Third Reich would not have been able to rebuild German military capability without the Soviet supply of natural resources and military cooperation. It would not have been able to defeat Poland and France so easily, nor would it have had so much freedom in preparing the devastating machinery of the Holocaust.”
What this refers to is the Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact which was signed on August 23, 1939. Moscow did so, expediently and under duress, in order to keep the Nazi war machine at bay while it built up its defenses. The Soviet Union was all the more forced into such a tactical expedience of non-aggression because the other European powers had for years constantly rebuffed appeals from Moscow for a wider security pact against Nazi Germany. Britain, France and Poland had all entered into non-aggression pacts with Hitler long before the Soviets did. The Europeans permitted Nazi Germany to remilitarize the Rhineland in 1936, annex Austria in the same year, and invade Czechoslovakia in 1938. It was a policy of collusion, giving Hitler a “free hand” to go on the rampage across Europe. Arguably, they wanted Nazi Germany to attack the dreaded Communist Soviet Union.
However, what the Polish premier is claiming in his opinion piece is that the Nazi-Soviet non-aggression deal signed one week before the start of the World War II allowed the Third Reich to “rebuild German military capability”. He then says this enabled Hitler to “defeat Poland and France so easily”. That’s quite an achievement for an ad hoc pact that was only one week old.
More preposterously, Morawiecki goes on to claim that the inchoate Soviet dalliance with Nazi Germany prepared the “devastating machinery of the Holocaust”.
The Final Solution carried out in the Polish death centers only got underway after the January 1942 Wannsee Conference near Berlin chaired by Reinhard Heydrich and Heinrich Himmler. By that time, Nazi Germany was already six months into its war against the Soviet Union – a war that resulted in up to 27 million Soviet deaths.
How Polish leaders can make out that the Soviet Union was involved in enabling the Holocaust is a feat of intellectual dishonesty and immense historical corruption.
Remembering the Holocaust, the World War II and its causes is of crucial importance. It was a product of fascism, European collusion and cynical appeasement. If we can’t accurately delineate and learn from the causes of history, then we are at the mercy of repeating the same mistakes and horrors.
The irrational anti-Russia sentiments of Poland’s nationalist politicians, as well as their desire to sanitize the past, make their revisionism a disgrace and a danger to the present world.