Isaac Gerstman

An Open Letter to Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki

Dear Mr. Prime Minister,

Let me just clarify something right off the bat – Jews were in no way, shape or form ‘perpetrators’ of the Holocaust. It’s absurd to accuse the victims of perhaps the most heinous example of genocide of being its perpetrators. Frankly, in doing so you are at best displaying considerable ignorance or worse, nefariously attempting to revise history for your own parochial interests. I can’t but wonder whether this a mere slip of the tongue or perhaps an organised campaign to further entrench right wing nationalism and xenophobia in Poland. It is no secret that over the past few years right wing nationalists have been experiencing a resurgence in Central and Eastern Europe. Germany has its AfD (Alternative für Deutschland), Hungary its Jobbik (Movement for a Better Hungary), Austria the FPÖ (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs) and your beloved Poland has its Law and Justice Party (the PiS – brilliant acronym!) under which you were appointed Prime Minister.

I’m also sure you’ve noticed that your country has been lurching rightward over the past few years, leaving behind the embrace of western liberalism and giving voice to the rising tide of nationalism and xenophobia now taking hold in Poland. Only recently some 60,000 demonstrators from all over the country came to march in Warsaw carrying placards reading “pure blood, clear mind” and “Europe will be white or uninhabited”. In fact, the mayor of Warsaw, a member of your own PiS party, actually funded some of the demonstrators’ travel expenses to Warsaw.

Your PiS also disbanded a government advisory committee on preventing racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance, as well as an Interior Ministry unit responsible for monitoring hate crimes. Why? Perhaps you believe your government is such a paragon of enlightenment regarding minorities and tolerance that there is no need for such committees. Do you see where I’m going with this?

Your government has also begun criminalising discussions that allege Polish complicity and/or involvement in the murder of Polish and European Jewry. You insist it was Nazi Germany that was responsible for everything and the Poles were…hapless victims, right?

While it is undoubtedly true that Poland suffered considerably under Nazi occupation with 6 million Poles killed, lets not forget that 3 million of those were Polish Jews (over 90% of your Jewish community), and according to research from Poland itself, thousands of Poles collaborated, participated or were responsible in some way for the murder of its Jewish citizens. Did thousands of Poles save Jews? Absolutely! But does this ameliorate the wrongdoing of those Poles who were complicit in the murder of their fellow citizens? Certainly not!

After World War II ended Jews were still being killed in Poland up until 1946. Pogroms were taking place in the Polish towns Kraków, Kielce, Białystok, Rzeszów, Tarnów, Bytom, Bielawa, Częstochowa, Legnica, Otwock, Sosnowiec and Szczecin arising from blood libel accusations where hundreds of the surviving Polish Jews were murdered by their Polish neighbours. There were no Nazis to blame this time. However, some Polish historians have claimed that the Poles were not to blame for this as well. It was the Russians’ fault – the Russian NKVD organized it in order to paint the Polish people as being anti-Semitic.

Mr. Prime Minister, no one expects you to embrace western liberalism and adopt the present Scandinavian or German model toward immigration and minorities yet by adopting far-right nationalism and lending a voice to ethnic-strife and xenophobia you will undoubtedly push Poland back to a darker era. It’s worth keeping in mind that Germany has become a beacon of democratic liberalism and an economic powerhouse precisely because it embraces its immigrant communities and affords them widespread civil rights protection. Data from the OECD clearly shows that Germany’s cultural diversity has contributed to its economic success. So for a better Poland and a safer world, let’s internalize some of the lessons of WWII – xenophobia, economic downturn and right-wing nationalism don’t mix well at all.

About the Author
Originally from New Jersey, Isaac has lived for many years in the UK, Australia and Israel. He trained and worked as an Israeli lawyer but currently runs a legal translation business based in Tel Aviv. He holds a master's degree from King's College London and has spent a lifetime trying to better understand how history develops in this corner of the world.
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