Letter by Krzysztof Szczerski to the Congressional Anti-Semitism Task Force
Dear Members of the Congressional Bipartisan Taskforce for Combating Anti-Semitism,
On behalf of the President of the Republic of Poland, I would like to thank you for your letter of January 31, 2018, regarding the amendment to the law on the Institute of National Remembrance which is currently making its way through the Polish legislative system.
I am especially grateful for your acknowledgment of the terrible losses Poland suffered during World War II at the hands of its German and Soviet invaders. Apart from brutally taking the lives of almost 6 million Polish citizens (3 million of them Polish Jews), the unprecedented terror of their occupation affected every aspect of material and spiritual existence of my fellow countrymen, regardless of their ethnic backgrounds. The barbaric Nazi German ideology aimed at a complete annihilation of the Jewish nation. However, many tend to ignore that it also led to enslavement, expulsion and eventually to extermination of the Polish and other Slavic peoples.
As you know, Poland was the only German occupied territory where the Nazis introduced death penalty for any attempt of sheltering or assisting the persecuted Jewish population. Hundreds of Poles were executed for helping their Jewish compatriots. That was the fate of, among many, the Ulma family in the small village of Markowa. On March 24, 1944, German gendarmes executed Józef, his pregnant wife Wiktoria, their six small children, along with eight Jews the family was hiding.
Nevertheless, thousands of Poles continued to help their Jewish neighbors despite the draconian law and terrible conditions of the German occupation. The Polish Underground State established the Council to Aid Jews “Żegota” to save as many Jewish lives as possible. They were aided by countless anonymous individuals. As you pointed out in your letter, almost 7000 of them have been honored with the Righteous Among the Nations Medals by the Yad Vashem. This list is still far from being complete.
Nobody in Poland who has elementary knowledge of history denies that there were instances of Polish people behaving disgracefully towards Jews during World War II. We condemn such acts and we do not intend to erase them from our past. However, unlike in several other European countries where governments cooperated with the Nazi Germany, such actions were never part of the official policy of the Polish government-in-exile. Poland did not collaborate with the Germans in any form. On the contrary, the Polish Underground State made effort to punish all instances of persecution of the Jewish population. That is why we cannot accept accusing the Polish State or the Polish Nation as a whole of being responsible for or complicit in the genocide of the Jewish population during World War II. Such suggestions deny the truth about the Holocaust.
Poland is aware of its obligations as the depository of the memory of the Holocaust. It was on the occupied Polish territory that the Germans built and operated the death camps. The Polish Nation was first to witness this unspeakable tragedy. Apart from helping our Jewish neighbors we alarmed the world about the atrocities of the German Final Solution when there was still time to stop it. We remain faithful to fulfilling this duty. Every year, we host thousands of Jewish visitors tracing their heritage or paying respects to those who perished in the Holocaust. We open museums, publish books and hold seminars on Jewish history, not hushing up the difficult issues.
President Andrzej Duda has consistently condemned all manifestations of anti-Semitism and ethnic or racial hatred, including during his visit to the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem and in recent days, during the debate on the amendment of the Act on the Institute of National Remembrance: “From the very beginning of my presidency, I have spoken very loudly and strongly – there is no consent for any hatred between nations in Poland. I am absolutely against anti-Semitism or any other manifestation of xenophobia, because hatred is the worst evil that is spreading among nations” (Żory, January 29, 2018).
However, each year we continue to register hundreds of cases where defamatory language, including the phrase “Polish death camps”, reappears. These false assertions must not be accepted. Defending the truth is impossible when the lies remain unchallenged.
On behalf of the President of the Republic of Poland I assure you of our commitment to cooperate on this matter.
Chief of the Cabinet of the President
Secretary of State