Annette van de Kamp-Wright
Editor, Jewish Press
There is much to unpack in Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s vow to never pay damages to any descendants of Holocaust survivors.
“If today anyone says that Poland has to pay damages to anyone,” he stated, “then we disagree and will continue to do so.”
The PM considers the concept of restitution to Jewish people morally flawed and a victory for Nazism. Poland wasn’t the torturer, he claims, Poland was the victim. Making the victim pay, well, that’s a posthumous victory for Adolf Hitler. He also said the Poles were the greatest victims of WW II.
He made the statement during something called a “patriotic picnic,” adding that Poles were “the most murdered victims here during the Second World War and we will never agree to any payment.”
Meanwhile, restitution of property of pre-War Jewish communities has taken place, including cemeteries, synagogues and other public building. Individuals who seek restitution of private property can go through the Polish court system, which is hard and expensive. Then, there is Law 447, or ‘Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today,’ approved by US Congress. It allows the United States to present a progress report on restitution for 46 countries, Poland included.
Law 447 is not sitting well with some Poles.
Morawiecki, who became Prime Minister in December of 2017, saw his first crisis the following January when he got onboard with the Amendment that criminalized ascribing complicity for the Holocaust to Polish citizens. It caused some very tense moments between his government and that of Israel. While the two nations technically smoothed things over, the situation remains precarious.
Anti-Semitism is not something that only came to Poland when the Nazis invaded; as in all other European countries, by the time German invasion was a fact, it was already there. And when the War ended, it didn’t leave:
“Those who stayed in Poland continued to suffer,” Yardena Schwartz wrote in Time Magazine last February. “Dozens of Jewish Holocaust survivors were murdered by their neighbors upon returning to their homes. Some Poles joined a “gold rush,” digging for valuables in mass graves of Jewish bodies. As Communist rule quickly replaced Nazi rule, Polish Jews were forced to choose between their faith and their country. Those who left could remain Jewish; those who stayed had to hide their Jewish identity. That process accelerated with the 1968 purge, when more than 15,000 Jews—half of Poland’s Jewish population—were stripped of citizenship and forced to leave. As a result, less than a tenth of the 10% of Polish Jews who managed to survive the Holocaust remained, says historian Stanislaw Krajewski.”
And yet, that is not the whole story.
For many European countries, telling the story of anti-Semitism in 2019 is easy. There are numerous examples in the news, from cemetery desecration to graffiti, from insensitive things people say to shootings and random acts of person-to-person violence. And we should tell that story.
However, we can simultaneously tell the story of revival. The one that addresses how Jewish communities are slowly coming back and reinventing themselves. How the grandchildren of Holocaust victims are rediscovering their heritage and finding their own paths, in Jewish schools, summer camps, synagogues and Jewish Community Centers.
Both stories are true. Which one will win out in the end, that’s anyone’s guess.
Editorials express the view of the writer and are not necessarily representative of the views of the Jewish Press Board of Directors, the Jewish Federation of Omaha Board of Directors, or the Omaha Jewish community as a whole.