A few days ago, the Polish parliament approved a Holocaust anti-restitution law “designed to end claims for property restitution and compensation for property confiscated by the country’s Communist regime in the 1940s and 1950s, including that of Holocaust survivors,” wrote Jeremy Sharon on The Jerusalem Post. Two days later, Israel recalled its envoy from Poland to protest the new law, and the US and Israel declared that they were coordinating their response to the anti-restitution law.
We needn’t be familiar with the details of the restitution arguments to know that antisemitism is widespread in Poland. It is also well-documented that Poles participated in killing Jews during World War II. At the same time, I think that focusing on the guilt of the Polish people and downgrading the level of the diplomatic relationship with Poland over this issue will not make Poland less antisemitic or help commemorate the Holocaust.
I think that if we want to do some real good to ourselves and to the world, we should focus on correcting the future, which means, first and foremost, correcting ourselves. This is the only step we can take that will yield good results. Everything else will have negative outcomes.
The people of Israel, whether they are aware of it or not, were once in possession of a method that changed human nature from the evil inclination that is in us from our youth, as the Torah writes (Gen. 8:21), into a nature of giving and bonding. This method enabled Abraham to unite the nomads who had gathered around him to hear his teachings about kindness and mercy. This method helped Moses turn the Israelites who had fled from Egypt into a nation after having committed to unite “as one man with one heart.” This method made us “a light unto nations” in the 3rd century BC, when Ptolemy II, king of Egypt, invited seventy sages from Jerusalem to translate their wisdom from Hebrew to Greek.
At the same time, the abandonment of this method had brought upon us Nebuchadnezzar, who destroyed the First Temple and exiled the people of Israel to Babylon. The abandonment of this method also brought upon us the Seleucid Empire, whose Hellenistic culture threatened to dissolve Jewish unity, and which inflicted upon us a bloody civil war.
In the end, the abandonment of this method of unity brought upon us Titus and his Roman Legion, which destroyed what was left of Jerusalem after we destroyed each other within the city walls. Had we not relinquished Abraham’s method of connection, which transfers self-centered individuals into caring human beings like Abraham himself, our chronicles would have been very different.
But we should not wallow in our sorrow; we should fortify our future. As then, so now, our strength lies in our unity. If we rise above our (intense) hatred for each other, no enemy will persecute us. If we seek to cover our hate with love, as King Solomon had suggested (Prov. 10:12), we will forge a solid union that will shine as a beacon of hope for all of humanity to see that foes really can become friends.
When our example brightens up the dimming light on humanity’s international relationships, the world will justify our presence in the land of Israel and will support us in every way it can. At that time, we will not need to fight for restitution; we will fight against our own egos, to raise unity over hatred, and the world will support our struggle to guarantee that we succeed.
The Holocaust claimed millions of our people, including most of the members of my family. If we want to do justice to their memory, to give their lives a lasting meaning, we must make the legacy of our people a living reality—a reality of union over division, love over hate, and be a living proof that people of different cultures, tongue, values, and goals can become one solid nation. We will be a proud and respected nation only when we prove that “Love your neighbor as yourself” is not an empty motto, but our everyday reality and our life’s purpose.
For more on this topic, refer to the book The Jewish Choice: Unity or Anti-Semitism, Historical facts on anti-Semitism as a reflection of Jewish social discord.