Israel and Poland have reached a compromise with regard to the law that prohibits blaming Poland for the Holocaust. According to the final version of the legislation, presented during a joint statement by both Israel and Poland, anyone found associating Nazi Germany's crimes with the entire Polish nation will face fines but not prison terms.
Sputnik discussed the extent of Poland’s complicity in Holocaust with Efraim Zuroff, director of the Israel office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and author of "Svoy", a book published in Russian.
Sputnik: From a historical perspective, what is the extent of Poland’s complicity in Holocaust?
Efraim Zuroff: There’s no question that many Poles were involved in killing Jews or informing on Jews and therefore played a role in their subsequent murder. But there is a substantial difference between the situation in Poland and the situation elsewhere in Eastern Europe in countries like Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Ukraine, Belarus — where the local collaborators were incorporated into the mechanism of mass murder. In other words, one of the differences here is that many of the Poles who were actively involved in the murder of Jews did so on their own initiative, not as part of some sort of national framework. Let’s say, like the Lithuanian police battalions or the Latvian security police, or the Estonian political police, or the Ukrainian security police, or the Ustashe in Croatia.
Sputnik: Just following on from that question then, what could be the possible ramifications of such legislation?
Efraim Zuroff: The danger is in terms of silencing research or whitewashing the crimes committed by Poles during the war, and in that regard there’s a serious danger that now it’s not going to be the government that is going to sue them, but rather individuals can sue them, or, for example, ultranationalist organizations in Poland can sue them and can make their lives miserable.
his would probably persuade many people from pursuing research of the sort and telling the truth about what happened in Poland, because in recent years there have been some excellent books written on the role played by Poles in the Holocaust; books by historians like Barbara Engelking, Jan Grabowski. The fear is that such brave, courageous historians may face prosecution, may face libel suits, or might be dissuaded, or potential historians may decide not to deal with this subject because it’s too dangerous.
Sputnik: That’s a question in itself: why has there been a slow sea change with regard to this, and what lies behind Mr Netanyahu's approval of this move now? It’s quite complicated for the next generation to try and get their head around it. I’m 50 and I’m struggling to understand the rationale behind it; what is the core reason for the sea change do you think?
Efraim Zuroff: First of all, you have to understand there were two parts to the bill, and one was absolutely justified; it was historically accurate, which was that they wanted to make it a criminal offense to use the term Polish death camps. So the death camps that are referred to in this regard — the largest, of course, and most lethal was Auschwitz, Treblinka, Bełżec, Sobibór, Chełmno and Majdanek — they were not Polish camps, they were located in Poland but they were not built or run by Poles.
These were Nazi camps, established in occupied Poland by the Nazis, and the people who ran these camps were Germans and Austrians and some of what we call hiwis — volunteers who had been captured as Red Army soldiers and were given the opportunity by the SS to be released from prisoner of war camps where the conditions were very brutal and to undergo certain training. Then they were sent to serve as guards and people who were actively involved in the mass murder process, especially in the camps of operation Reinhard — the operation in which the Nazis tried to eliminate, to mass murder all the Jews of Poland, and those camps were Treblinka, Bełżec and Sobibór.