Today, we think back to the time when 73 years ago, in January of 1945, German Nazis were driving Birkenau inmates across the town of Żory, right here where are. And for us, Poles, this is a profound history lesson to be remembered, for among those captured there were also our compatriots of various nationalities, presumably, most of them of Jewish nationality.
From the very outset of my presidency and on many occasions, I have been making this point very clear: I do not give consent to any form of hatred among the nationalities in Poland. I give no consent to any form of anti-Semitism, or any other manifestation of xenophobia, since hatred is the worst evil that can possibly spread among nations. I will always oppose it, always, no matter who is behind it, and no matter how important such a person may be. And if it is a simple person, I will try to gently admonish him or her.
I will try to point out to such a person that what he or she does is not only unnecessary but even more so, it defies our most profound principles, defies our ethics growing from the stem of Christianity, founded on a profound ethos of love of one’s neighbour.
Likewise, as President of the Republic of Poland, today I want to make another point equally clear: I can never come to terms with slandering us, Poles, as a Nation, or Poland as a country, by distortion of historical truth and by false accusations. Too many of them have been levelled these days at our Country and at our Nation, by far too many to let them pass.
Therefore, as this juncture, I want to argue most forcefully: there where no Polish death camps whatsoever, nor Polish concentration camps. Such camps were built on the territory of non-existing Polish state, by the Germans who invaded, tore apart and destroyed Poland along with the Soviet Russia. It was them who were building annihilation camps. It was them who murdered people in such camps with unimaginable ruthlessness, in order to wipe out whole nations they deemed marked out for destruction: Jews in the first place, but also Roma people, the Roma community, and also Poles, whom they considered “Untermenschen”.
This is something we all know perfectly well. As a state, Poland lost in World War 2 about 6 million of its citizens: Poles and Jews alike. They were citizens of the Republic of Poland, the state which was destroyed and could not stand up for them, could not defend them. The point I must stress most emphatically is that there was no complicity in the Holocaust: either on the part of Poland as a state, a non-existent state, or on the part of Poles perceived as a Nation.
On the contrary: there was a concerted organized action to fight the Holocaust. That is why the Polish Government in London, acting though its Delegation for Poland, set up the Council to Aid Jews, code-named “Żegota”; that is why Jan Karski took action on behalf of that Government; that is also why Rittmeister Pilecki accomplished his daring mission in Auschwitz. Witold Pilecki, later an Indomitable Soldier, murdered by the communists. This obviously was an organised systematic effort undertaken by the institutions of the Polish state, wherever they existed, be it clandestine or in exile. But it was a systematic and concerted effort to fight the Holocaust, to aid Jews.
Once again, I wish to reiterate this point most emphatically: there was no systematic support to the Holocaust on the part of Poland, no support to this atrocious annihilation and death machine; there was fight waged against it. Ladies and Gentlemen, we must call for respect of this elementary truth, of these fundamental facts; it is our right that we have as a Nation, the same way it is the right of the Jews to fight anti-Semitism. And we, likewise, have the right to stand up against this gross and shocking slander. By that, I do not mean to say that there were no wicked people around. Indeed, there were such vile people who would sell even their own neighbours in return for money. Yes, I admit, there were such people, but these were individuals, and not the Polish Nation, these were simply instances of baseness, not an organised action.
However, next to such instances of baseness, there were also cases where people would sacrifice their own lives for their Jewish neighbours, such as the Ulma family in the Podkarpacie region, who died all of them, having sheltered their Jewish neighbours. There are thousands of such examples in Poland. And yet the times were incredibly difficult, the times of unimaginable hardships. There was extraordinary heroism, there was great love of one’s neighbour but on the other side, there was also baseness and cruelty, equally inconceivable.
All being said, there was no systematic complicity: neither on the part of the Polish Nation, nor on the part of the Polish state, in the act of atrocious annihilation. On the contrary: there was an effort to counter this extermination, to the extent possible. Closing this train of thought, I wish to make one more emphatic point: in any nation, in any society, there will always be a number of vile people, we all realize the fact and let us bear it in mind; this is a question of the most fundamental justice, something that I, as President, claim for the Polish people as a Nation, and for Poland, something that I claim from the world.