What do the Poles think of Israel?

Dispute between Russia and PolandIt is about "the rule over the correct storytelling"

Maja Ellmenreich: He is allowed to? And not me? The diplomatic quarrels that accompany tomorrow's World Holocaust Forum in the Yad Vashem memorial in Jerusalem can be summed up in this very simplified formula. While around 50 heads of state and government travel to Israel to talk about the future memory of the Holocaust - when no contemporaries, no survivors can tell - while the world meets in Yad Vashem, on the occasion of the 75th anniversary the liberation of the Nazi extermination camp Auschwitz, Poland's President Andrzej Duda stayed away from the event. Namely, he is not allowed to speak at the official memorial act, but - besides Israel and Germany - representatives of the four allies of the Second World War: President Vladimir Putin will speak for Russia. Putin? And not Duda? Then rather not appear at all, so Duda's motto.

I spoke with the director of the German Poland Institute in Darmstadt, with the historian Peter Oliver Loew, about the historical and current background to this boycott. Mr. Loew, the background to Duda's rejection is a historical dispute between Poland and Russia. Can it be summed up like this: Both want to downplay their collaboration with Hitler's Germany, their participation in the Holocaust?

Peter Oliver Loew: You have to differentiate, Ms. Ellmenreich. If you accuse Poland of collaborating, it is very unjust because Poland itself was basically a victim of the Nazi attack. And at best one can blame individual groups in Polish society for participating in the Holocaust. Ultimately, Putin and Duda and this dispute are about the struggle for interpretive sovereignty, for control over the correct narration of history. Putin says Poland is partly to blame for the outbreak of World War II and Poland was generally a latently anti-Semitic country, so ultimately blaming Poland.

From a Polish perspective and from the perspective of historical science, this is ultimately nonsense. Poland was much more victimized, and against this background, Duda ultimately had no choice but to say: I cannot go to Israel if I am not there as a representative of the country that involuntarily became the scene of the Holocaust and the massive murder is when I can't speak for myself.

Loew: "There was anti-Semitism in all countries"

Ellmenreich: So you understand Andrzeij Duda's attitude and decision and would, so to speak, expect Vladimir Putin at his side to use the stage in Yad Vashem again to present these de facto false facts?

Loew: These are the fears in Poland. It has been said that either Duda can present Poland's point of view there and counteract Russia's historical and political offensive, which is already underway - or we leave it, it makes no sense for him to stand there, smile at the cameras and not say anything.

Ellmenreich: I would like to come back to your sentence that Poland was primarily a victim at the time and not necessarily a perpetrator. In his statements, Vladimir Putin repeatedly emphasizes the strong anti-Semitism in the years between the wars. So is Putin completely wrong with his reasoning?

Loew: Anti-Semitism was not something foreign to European societies in the interwar period. There was anti-Semitism in every country in Europe. And when you realize that Poland was the country where most of the Jews in Eastern Europe lived, numerically, in percentage terms, it is natural that there were also a certain number of people who were anti-Semites or who engaged in anti-Semitic propaganda and somehow subjugated politics.

There was anti-Semitism - and anti-Semitism also became a bit of government policy in the last few years before World War II. But that was, shall we say, anti-Semitism that cannot be seen in the context of the Holocaust at all, but if so, even the Polish nationalists thought, the right only wanted to oust Poland, perhaps to induce emigration, to contribute to that the competition for non-Jewish Poles on the labor market will decrease. To blame the Poles for this in the context of the Holocaust is deeply unhistorical.

Polish Holocaust Law Was "Absolute Flaw"

Ellmenreich: But it is also a fact that the politics of remembrance in Poland has only been very nationalistic for a few years now, especially since the PiS government. We are only thinking of the debate about the so-called Holocaust law, which we have already spoken about with you here in "Kultur heute".

Loew: Yes, this is part of the PiS history policy to try to highlight the victim role of the Poles and to sweep possible nefarious elements of Polish history under the rug. And then they tried to pass this law, or passed it, it was then withdrawn, which said that any talk about a possible co-responsibility of Poles in the persecution of Jews, in the murder, in the Holocaust, should be made a punishable offense. It was an absolute mistake by the Polish government to have pushed through this law at all, because it caused an outrageous outcry in the entire western world and of course among almost all Jews. It is inconceivable to want to decree historical truth by law, so to speak.

Statements by our interlocutors reflect their own views. Deutschlandfunk does not adopt the statements of its interlocutors in interviews and discussions as its own.