“May all get their due” is an important concept rooted in the teachings of such great philosophers as Plato, Aristotle and Cicero. It allows for justice to be done upon all. In the aftermath of the commemorations of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, perhaps now is a good moment to reflect and ensure that we give due to all those involved in the Holocaust – the victims, the survivors, those who helped Jews, and the perpetrators. This way we present the truth about one of the worst tragedies in human history.
The truth is that on 1 September 1939 the Second World War started when Nazi Germany invaded Poland, with the Soviet Union attacking 16 days later. Poland was the war’s first victim, the first country to experience the armed aggression of the two ruthless totalitarian regimes, and the first country that fought to defend free Europe. Under the German occupation Polish citizens were exposed to every kind of atrocity imaginable. The culmination of the wartime crimes was the genocide of six million Jews by the Nazis.
It is therefore Poland’s duty to remind the world of the real historical events when they are being challenged. It is not historical revisionism – it is historical acknowledgement. With some of the history’s worst atrocities taking place on its soil, Poland is the guardian of the memory of all those who died in such hideous crimes as the Holocaust. And let’s remember that three million out of the six million Jews murdered in it were Polish citizens.
Of course, when talking about Holocaust truth, one must confront the uncomfortable facts. Some Polish individuals were forced by the German occupier to collaborate with the Nazi German machinery of extermination, or even did so of their own will. But these attitudes were not dominant or typical of Polish society. Rest assured, in Poland the debate on the different attitudes towards the Holocaust has never been more open, frank and lively than it is today.
But let us also remember that despite facing the death penalty for aiding Jews, thousands of Poles helped, with 6,992 named Righteous Among the Nations. What’s more, Poland was the only occupied country whose government did not collaborate with Nazi Germany. The Polish underground state with Polish Government-in-Exile consequently opposed the Holocaust, informed the international community about it, and appealed to Allied governments to undertake actions to stop it through such acts as the December 1942 Raczyński’s Note – the first official document informing the West about the Holocaust in German-occupied Poland. The Bernese Group of Polish and Jewish diplomats and activists, meanwhile, helped save thousands of Jews by giving them fake Latin American passports. And Żegota – the Polish Council to Aid Jews, an institution of the Polish underground state – helped about half of the Jews who survived the Holocaust in occupied Poland. There were many more Polish acts of rescue in such places as Hungary, China and Japan, making this a global effort.
With ‘Auschwitz 75’ commemorations rightly taking centre stage in recent days, I am glad that the effort to honour the victims has also been global – around 200 Holocaust survivors as well as leaders and representatives of dozens of countries gathered at the Auschwitz Memorial. The UK government and the Mayor of London have pledged £1.3 million for the upkeep of the museum, for which I am very grateful. This will help Poland’s commitment – £14 million a year ¬– to preserve the memory of the Auschwitz victims.
Knowing the role of all those involved in the Holocaust, we must ensure that we treat them fairly. Those who suffered deserve compassion and remembrance, the perpetrators – condemnation, the helpers – admiration. Only in this way will we give them their due, maintain historical accuracy, and ensure that lessons of the Holocaust live on and serve as a warning, so that a tragedy like this never happens again.