As the son of a member of the Polish Underground unit Zoska that was acknowledged by Yad Vashem for saving 350 Jews during the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, I take umbrage at the letters by Alan Shatter and Oliver Sears published in the Irish Times on October 4th of 2019. Both were filled with historical misrepresentations and anti-Polish hostility.
The authors reacted to a letter by Ambassador of Poland, Anna Sochanska in which she rightfully objects to the incorrect wording “Polish Ghetto”, and “Ghetto in Poland” in the article “Hidden for 40 years: Renia Spiegel’s second World War diary” (September 29th, 2019) in regards to the Ghettos created by the German occupiers of Poland for Jews in German occupied Poland during World war II. The article failed to mention the German occupation of Poland, during which time the Holocaust of the Jews occurred, and also failed to identify the German ethnicity of the perpetrators, a fairly common occurrence at the Irish Times.
As explained previously to the Irish Times, the wording used by the Irish Times falsely suggests that Poland was a sovereign state when the Germans forced Jews into the Ghettos, and then later sent them to the death camps.
Somehow, the straightforward objection of Ambassador Sochanska to the incorrect use of the word “Poland”, instead of correctly using the words “German occupied Poland” prompted two angry letters, one by Alan Slatter, former Justice and Defense Minister, and the other by Oliver Sears, a former Trustee of Holocaust Education Trust Ireland. According to Slatter, the Ambassador’s “egregious and offensive letter” was “utterly lacking in historical accuracy and empathy”. Sears wrote that the letter was a “perfect example of the shocking attempt by the Polish government to distort history.” Is pointing out that there is a significant difference between the geo-political terms “Poland” and “German occupied Poland” distorting history? Considering that there was literally nothing more in the letter by the Polish Ambassador, where is the historical distortion? What was so offensive? Having read all the letters, it would be my claim that the letters by Slatter and Sears are the ones that were offensive, besides being irrational, deceitful and biased. They also contained several historical distortions. Both showed no empathy towards the Polish victims of Nazi GERMANY.
First of all, Shatter and Sears repeat the same mistake of the Irish Times. How difficult is it to comprehend that Poland was occupied by another country - Germany, not a Nazi party? As a matter of simple decency, and empathy towards the Polish victims of Germany during WW II, precise language is called for. Please note that Germans currently describe Germany as having been occupied by Nazis, which would correctly refer to German Nazis. The current colloquial use of the word Nazi no longer applies only to Germans. Using the word Nazi to refer to the occupation of Poland, without mentioning Germany, suggests wrongly that Polish Nazis occupied Poland. Such language equates the Polish victims with the German perpetrators, which is egregiously false. Poland was brutally occupied by Germany!
Second, some Jews, like some Poles, were not only victims, unlike what Sears ignorantly, hypocritically or deceitfully claims. Some Jews were also perpetrators. Poles agree that there were some Poles that did kill Jews, but the reasons were not necessarily anti-Semitism but rather combat, ideological differences, conflicting alliances, revenge, survival, fear, criminality, anger, mental illness, nervous breakdown, hunger, disputes, etc. The same applies to Jews killing Poles. Jewish red militias helped the Soviets attack, round up, deport to the gulag, or kill, thousands of Polish individuals and families in the Soviet occupied Poland between 1939 to 1941. There were even Jewish partisans from 1941 to 1945 who attacked Polish villages and killed civilians. After World War II, Jews in the Communist Secret Police imprisoned, tortured and killed Poles considered a threat to the imposition of Communist rule.
Shatter and Sears should also acquaint themselves with the activities of the Jewish councils and Jewish police, who were the ones who helped the Germans control, and then deport, hundreds of thousands of Jews to their deaths. There are plenty of memoirs and chronicles which expressed the utter disdain the Jews had for the Jewish police who acted against their own. Emanuel Ringelblum wrote “Very often the cruelty of the Jewish police exceeded that of the Germans, Ukrainians and Latvians.” Chaim Rumkowski, the head of the Lodz Ghetto Jewish Council, is notorious for his appeal to Jewish parents to give him their children to give to the Germans, and to certain death, so he, and the rest might survive. There were also Jewish blackmailers and agents who identified other Jews living outside the Ghetto walls, and either enriched themselves by extorting money and valuables, or betrayed their Jewish victims and their Christian helpers to the Germans. While the actions of these Jews should not taint the memory of the other Jews, neither should the actions of some Poles taint the memory of the other Poles.
In regards to Jedwabne, the Poles did not commit that crime. A German death squad did. The Poles and Jews were at the mercy of the heavily armed Germans. They were terrorized into performing insignificant and demeaning functions. Prior to Jedwabne, Germans had slaughtered Poles in numerous towns and villages. In Jedwabne they slaughtered the Jews instead. The theory of Polish guilt was put forth in a book that was seriously flawed. The fact that this theory was embraced and portrayed as proven, in spite of the plethora of evidence to the contrary, simply indicates ill will and bias. If anything, this theory should be referred to as controversial.
Shatter and Sears wrote about Polish anti-Semitism, but they didn’t mention disgraceful anti-Polonism amongst some Jewish and Israeli groups (what about Polish-Jewish friendship?) and the appalling manifestations of it coming from top politicians in Israel, such as Israel Katz or Yair Lapid. Perhaps, both Slatter and Sears should look in the mirror and come to terms with their own bigotry before they lecture others.
As far as the assertion by Sears that a Polish law makes it illegal to claim Polish complicity in the Holocaust, the law prohibits “attributing responsibility or co-responsibility, contrary to the facts, to the Polish Nation or to the Polish State, for German Nazi crimes committed by the German Third Reich.” Why would Sears wish to be allowed to hold the Polish Nation or the Polish State responsible, contrary to the facts, for crimes committed by the German Third Reich. To unjustifiably incite anti-Polish hatred? To level false charges with impunity? The idea that Poles were complicit in the Holocaust is as outrageously ridiculous as claiming Poles were complicit in the German murders of three million ethnic Poles, or that Jews were complicit in the genocide by the Germans of the Poles or the Holocaust of the Jews.
Considering the repetitive and obstinate use of misleading terminology by the Irish Times that falsely insinuates Polish culpability in the Holocaust, one can only suspect that it is being done deliberately and maliciously to subliminally plant in the minds of their readers the false notion that Poles and Poland were responsible for the Holocaust of the Jews. Either way, the continued use of such terminology is infuriating to Poles who lost loved ones at the hands of the same Germans that perpetrated the Holocaust against the Jews. It is disrespectful to those Poles that were tortured, raped and forced into slave labor by Germans, and anger provoking to those Poles that defied and fought those Germans on all fronts. The Irish Times has no credibility when it comes to Polish WW II history and should stop pretending it does. The same can be said of both Shatter and Sears.
The fact that neither Shatter or Sears, with one being involved in Holocaust Education, are incapable of understanding the content of Ambassador Sochanska’s letter, is a testament to the need to examine Holocaust education in Ireland, so as to ensure that it is not inciting hate towards Poles, based on biased, exaggerated, unsubstantiated and false claims and teachings.
Nazi Germany and Ghettoes
Sir, – The article “Hidden for 40 years: Renia Spiegel’s second World War diary” (September 29th) includes the following: “Five days after she wrote this final diary entry, Renia Spiegel was dead. She was shot by the Nazis who had discovered her in hiding alongside her boyfriend’s parents: he had endeavoured to save them all, but someone had betrayed their attic hiding place in the Przemysl ghetto in Poland”, and “It’s hard to connect this elegantly-dressed woman, wearing her gold jewellery so insouciantly, with the image I have in my head of her as a child escaping from a Polish ghetto”.
I wish to point out that the phrases “ghetto in Poland” and “Polish ghetto” used in the text are misleading and inaccurate.
Poland did not exist as an independent state at the time Jewish ghettos were established and run on its territory by Nazi Germany.
I want to believe that the phrases “ghetto in Poland” and “Polish ghetto” used in the article were unintended mistakes, yet they are an oversight unacceptable to Poland and the Polish community in Ireland. – Yours, etc,
Ambassador of Poland to Ireland
Embassy of the Republic of Poland
Ballsbridge, Dublin 4
“Hidden for 40 years: Renia Spiegel’s second World War diary,” Irish Times, September 29th 2019.
Sir, – I read with a mixture of astonishment and anger the egregious and offensive letter, utterly lacking in historical accuracy and empathy, of Anna Sochanska, the ambassador of Poland to Ireland (Letters, October 4th). Referencing the moving article (“Hidden for 40 years: Renia Spiegel’s second World War diary”, September 29th), about the publication of Renia Spiegal’s second World War diary and her murder by Nazis in the “Przemsyl ghetto in Poland” for simply being Jewish following the betrayal of her attic hiding place, the ambassador objected to the reference “ghetto in Poland” and to a later reference to “Polish ghetto”. The use of such phrases are, according to the ambassador, “unacceptable to Poland and the Polish community in Ireland” because “Poland did not exist as an independent state at the time Jewish ghettos were established and run on its territory by Nazi Germany.”
We live in an era where truth for some no longer matters, words have lost their meaning and politically opportunistic nationalist revisionism is dangerously on the march in Europe. Yes, Nazi Germany occupied Poland but occupation did not relocate the Przemsyl ghetto or the much better known Warsaw Ghetto to anywhere other than Poland. It did not relocate the ghetto in Lódz, a city from which my father’s parents fortunately emigrated to England in 1913, to anywhere other than Poland.
The genocide of three million Polish Jews in the Holocaust occurred in Poland in mass shootings, gas-filled vans and in extermination camps, such as Auschwitz-Birkenau, located in Poland. Their murder was not perpetrated elsewhere.
And yes over 2.7 million Poles were killed during the second World War, brave members of the Polish resistance fought the Nazi invaders, righteous non-Jewish Poles risked their lives to save Jews fleeing Nazi persecution and death, and too many Poles collaborated with the Nazis, are complicit in the Holocaust and some murdered Jewish survivors of the death camps upon their return to Poland after the second World War. The true barbaric history and enormity of the evil that occurred cannot be adequately described in a few words nor should be distorted by linguistic and semantic gymnastics.
Learning from and understanding the past many believe is vital if the horrors of the past are not to be repeated in the future. From my experience of and from what I have seen of human nature I believe this is an over-optimistic view. But whatever your view, truth matters and the ambassador’s attempt to distort the historical record does nothing to enhance Poland’s standing in Ireland and is of no benefit to the Polish community in Ireland.
It is a pity that the Polish ambassador had nothing to say in her letter about the tragic fate of Renia Spiegel, who, like so many, was far too young for her life to end. – Yours, etc,
Former Minister for Justice and Defence
Sir, – The Polish ambassador’s letter that takes umbrage at the description of ghettos in Poland, as referred to in the sensitively written article by award-winning journalist Rosita Boland on Renia Spiegel, whose diaries are about to be published, is a perfect example of the shocking attempt by the Polish government to distort history.
Poland was occupied by both the Nazis and the Soviets during the war. The ghettos were created on the orders of the Nazis. No one disputes these facts. Indeed, many Poles were murdered by both occupying forces. And many Poles fought bravely in the resistance. But neither Poland nor the Poles as a people were wiped off the face of the Earth, their presence and culture reduced to ash.
The ambassador should be careful with her language. Is she saying that the virulent anti-Semitism visited on the Jews by the indigenous people of Poland during the war was in fact not Polish anti-Semitism? The Polish Jews of Jewabne were murdered in July 1941 in their hundreds by their Polish Catholic neighbours. Or were they no longer Poles in 1941?
Perhaps the ambassador should focus more on the disgraceful rise of anti-Semitism in her own country. Her prime minister recently included Jews in the list of perpetrators of the Holocaust. Poles were both perpetrators and victims. Jews were only victims.
The ambassador’s letter is part of an ongoing strategy by the right-wing Law and Justice party to shore up its base. The recent law making it illegal to claim Polish complicity in the Holocaust deliberately shuts down research and discussion on this subject. In Poland, I could be prosecuted for writing this letter, and I’m the son of a Polish Holocaust survivor.
The ambassador couldn’t muster a single word of sympathy for Renia Spiegel, one of the three million Jewish Poles murdered in the Holocaust. I suggest she visits a Nazi concentration camp. In Poland she has literally hundreds to choose from.
This dark history is a stain on much of Europe. Poland’s role is a complicated one best understood by continued independent research, rather than by its government setting the terms of reference.
– Yours, etc,
Former Trustee of Holocaust Education Trust Ireland, Dublin 2