In an Editorial of an Israeli quality newspaper, I read the following two paragraphs:
“However, the uniqueness of Polish suffering is inseparable from the unique suffering of Poland’s Jews, who made up 10% of the total population, or around 3.5 million, at the start of the war. By the end of the war, only around 100,000 Polish Jews remained alive. Well over half of all Poles who were killed during the war were Jewish.”
“So while the entire Polish people were the victims of both Nazi and Soviet barbarism (the two countries split Poland between them on October 6, 1939) their suffering pales in comparison to the atrocities committed against the Jews.”
So it says “their suffering pales in comparison to the atrocities committed against the Jews.”
Let me tell you a story that shows how wrong this idea is.
My parents survived the Second World War in the largest Dutch concentration camp, Westerbork, from where 75% of all Dutch Jews were sent to their speedy death in camps in Poland. They were almost sole survivors of large Jewish families.
After the war, my mother told a Gentile woman her story as survivor. The woman then explain: We also suffered tremendously.
My mother asked her how.
She told her. At the end of the war, there was one more firefight close to our home. A stray bullet entered our house and went through our linen-cupboard. There was not one piece of linen without at least one bullet hole.
That was her tragedy. My mother understood. For herself, who lost almost all her family, her friends, her colleagues, this was silly. But for this woman it was a disaster.
My mother, whenever she told this story, then added her mild and empathic conclusion: Everyone feels their own sorrow the most.
And therefore you can’t say “We suffered far more – your suffering doesn’t count.” Besides, the Polish People also suffered ethnic cleansing by the Nazis. Million of Poles were not accidentally killed in the war but purposely murdered. They were not targeted like the Jews for extermination but the Nazis considered them Untermenschen (sub-human creatures, not worthy of life) and their Slave culture also inferior which should be destroyed. That is not nothing! Do not speak disparagingly about ethnic cleansing! This is much worse than the above mentioned linen with holes in them.
On top of that, the Dutch and the Poles had record numbers of Gentiles who hid, protected, fed and supported Jews against the Nazis, with danger to their own lives and the lives of their families. Record numbers. Don’t slight this!
The other side of the coin is that before, during and after WW II, anti-Semitism in Poland was rampant. Poles murdered Jews before, during and after WW II. The Nazi death camps were largely on Polish soil enabled by the anti-Semitic atmosphere in Poland. Don’t deny that either.
Don’t say that the Poles didn’t suffer.
Don’t say that their suffering was not so bad.
Don’t deny the exceptional Polish courage to save many Jewish lives.
Don’t deny the centuries of Jew hatred and murder in Poland.
Don’t pretend that situating Nazi death camps in Poland was accidental.
The Jewish death toll does not undo the Slave death toll.
The Slave suffering and resistance do not undo Polish Nazi collaboration.
Shame about Nazi sympathy in Poland doesn’t substitute for repentance.
The real issue here is not if the death camps were Polish. Rather, the question is if Poles are ready to face their centuries of Jew hatred – as can be read and heard still today from Poles.
Germany shows and models that pride does not need denial of a monstrous past. Rather, true pride can only come from acknowledging a monstrous past and rejecting it – with pride.