The Holocaust in Poland

 

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,

ALAN SHATTER,

(Former minister for justice

and defence),

Dublin 16.

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,

OLIVER SEARS,

(Former trustee

of Holocaust

Education Trust Ireland),

Dublin 2.