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Auschwitz commemorations in Jerusalem without the President of Poland

Reading Time: 9 minutes

By Rafał Ziemkiewicz.

Polish President Andrzej Duda announced at the beginning of January that he would not take part in the commemorations of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by the Soviet Army. The organizers of the commemorations, held on 23 January at the Yad Vashem Museum in Jerusalem, denied Duda the possibility of speaking at the event, while leaders representing Russia, France, the United Kingdom and the United States would be able to do so. Duda feared he would have to listen to new accusations by Russian President Vladimir Putin who, drawing on former Soviet propaganda, recently accused Poland of having sought an alliance with Hitler before World War II and of being partly responsible for the War and the Holocaust – in contrast to the USSR under Stalin, who Putin said had to agree to the signing of the German–Soviet Pact of August 1939 (and its secret clause dividing Central Europe between the two totalitarian powers) in order to gain time.

We chose to translate an article which illustrates a certain Polish point of view on this hot topic. Here is an explanation of this situation seen from Poland, in a piece by Rafał Ziemkiewicz, well-known journalist, writer and polemicist, published in the 13–19 January issue of the Do Rzeczy conservative weekly.


“Israel is dominated by Russian Jews, whose attitude towards our country was shaped by the propaganda of the former USSR. Their resentments coincide with the interests of influential Jewish organizations in the USA.”

From the perspective of a few weeks, one can see that the insults made by the Russian president— who attacked Poland four times within a short span of time—insinuating that we shared the blame for the outbreak of war and the Holocaust, and describing our pre-war politicians as scum or anti-Semitic swine, were not a coincidence, but the beginning of a well thought-out propaganda campaign. It seems that the World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem, where Vladimir Putin will be the highest ranked guest and keynote speaker this year, will be its apogee.

The annual forum (its fifth edition being on 23 January) is organized by a private foundation of the same name, controlled by the Russian oligarch and activist of international Jewish associations, Viatcheslav Moshe Kantor. Without investigating deeper into the sources of his fortune, we can be sure that he would not have acquired it, and certainly would not have preserved it, without active cooperation with Russian authorities and agencies. However, although it is Kantor who has a decisive influence on the agenda of the meeting, the patronage of the Yad Vashem Museum and the Israeli authorities makes this meeting a kind of official anniversary celebration in the eyes of the whole world. And the opinions expressed in such places immediately reach the world’s topmost influential media.

Covering up their own problems

We know very well what destructive power can come from the defamatory actions of the Prime Minister of Israel when two years ago, during the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, he ordered his ambassador to suddenly attack Poland for an alleged desire to punish historians and artists who portrayed Polish co-responsibility for the Holocaust. The pretext for the attack was the amendment of the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) Act, but (and this escaped even the Polish side’s attention) the target of the attack was a biased interpretation of the provisions of the Act, which had been in place for years and did not raise any objections from Jews who have had many opportunities to express possible doubts in a way appropriate to the relations between civilized nations. In retrospect, it is clear that the whole chutzpah was the result of an internal political power play in Israel. In order to accomplish it, Netanyahu wanted to divert attention from the corruption charges that had just been made against him and to simultaneously secure an advantage for himself over his main competitor in this electoral segment — Jaire Lapid in the eyes of the nationalist electorate — as a more assertive politician towards Poland, which is disliked in those circles. He did not fully achieve these goals; his power is still unstable, and the action of Prime Minister Morawiecki, who (probably due to pressure from the USA) managed to obtain a joint declaration with Netanyahu giving Poland some historical justice, mitigating our losses (although at the cost of ridiculing the legislative process, which for the purposes of this declaration, was reduced to nine hours from the moment of submission to the presidential signature).

Nevertheless, this very incident should be regarded as the model and inspiration for Vladimir Putin. Similarly, the main cause of the attacks should be attributed to the internal problems of the aggressor. Putin is increasingly desperate for success. The assault on Crimea and Donbass carried out by fighters with no insignia — in gear that, according to Putin, can be bought in any survival store — has failed to bring about the recovery of Ukraine expected by the Russians. On the contrary: in a society that until now had cultivated post-communist sentiments and for this reason being rather pro-Russian, the crookedness of this aggression has awakened a spirit of resistance and hatred towards its eastern neighbour. Stuck in Donbass, Russia also seems to be losing influence in Belarus. Alexander Lukashenko, who has very bad press in Poland, turned out to be a more difficult partner for Putin than anyone had anticipated, partly because Russia proved unable to keep up with many points of the provisions it had officially committed itself to under the arrangement constituting the Union of Belarus and Russia. Nor is the economic situation and standard of living of the Russians satisfying. Despite many promises for years, they have not been significantly improved, and it is becoming increasingly clear to the Russians that they are living in an anachronistic state, backward in comparison not only to the West but also to Asia.

Covering up internal problems with external aggression has happened repeatedly in history. Multiple examples exist, starting from the 17th century Ottoman Empire to the assault of Argentina’s ruling military junta on the Falklands. Putin is doing the same. For now, fortunately, in the symbolic sense. The peculiarity of Russian society makes its voters crave imperial expectations to be met more than material goods. They want to keep being convinced that, despite the difficulties of everyday life, Russia still counts in the world, is still a superpower and that someone is still afraid of it. And just as in the case of the Israeli politicians, the Russian ones also perceive Poland as the ideal whipping boy.

Russian-Israeli rapprochement

An additional circumstance that prompted Putin to attack Poland specifically is the Russian-Israeli rapprochement, desired today by both parties, although unwelcome by the main ally of Israel and Poland – the United States. It is no coincidence that when American drones killed General Soleimani and his Iraqi allies at the Baghdad airport, and Iranian missiles fell in retaliation on American military bases, the Russian president talked to Syrian dictator Assad in Damascus, and from there went to Turkey to consult with President Erdoğan. At a lower diplomatic level, the Russian stir in the Middle East continues incessantly. Interference in this region has become a priority in Russian politics, a way to keep the fading ‘superpowerness’ alive. Israel’s kindness is a very important asset for Putin in this game. For Netanyahu, in turn, cooperation with Putin is a valuable alternative to meeting the expectations of its American ally.

Israel, having been formed in overwhelming extent by the Jews of Poland and formerly a friendly host to many Polish artists, is today dominated by Russian Jews, whose attitude towards our country – and perception of the world in general – was shaped by the propaganda of the former USSR. Their resentments converge with the interests of influential Jewish organizations in the USA, primarily interested in repeating the great success that was the robbery of Swiss banks, and  collecting a multibillion-dollar tribute from Poland under the guise of returning the “heirless property”. Since such a concept does not exist in international law, the only justification for their claims may be a “moral responsibility” – a formula once uttered by the head of the World Jewish Congress that the perpetrators of the crime cannot be allowed to inherit from its victims. It is not, as the intelligent elite of the Law and Justice party naively want to believe, a “misunderstanding” or a “legacy of history”, but a cynical, amoral propaganda campaign necessary for the realization of thuggish intentions towards our country.

It is hard to imagine a more effective apogee of such a campaign than the forum, where the president of Russia, with Jewish politicians and authorities, reprimands the deprived-of-the-right-to-speak president of the Republic of Poland, and instructs him about Polish responsibility for the war and for the Holocaust before the whole world. And remembering the unceremonious regard towards historical truth shown by Prime Minister Netanyahu when announcing a few years ago at the Zionist Congress that the Germans did not want the Holocaust and were persuaded to perpetrate it by Muslim leaders, Putin could be sure of cooperation from this side. All the more so because, on the part of Israel, Viatcheslav Kantor’s partner in the technical organization of the forum is the famed minister Israel Katz, who, like the government to which he belongs, has strongly refused any apology for his racist remarks about “anti-Semitism sucked by Poles with their mothers’ milk”.

By refusing to participate in this political and historical chutzpah (once again, we have to use this self-imposing term), President Duda made the only decision possible from the Polish point of view. As revealed by the Polish ambassador to Jerusalem Marek Magierowski, Yad Vashem and the Israeli authorities were informed well in advance, several months earlier, about the fact that the condition for our president’s participation in the forum would be to give him the floor on equal terms with the main speakers. On the Polish side, it seems that everything was done as required by the assumption that partners are guided by good will. A naive assumption, but necessary in diplomacy.

It is possible that the organizers of the forum hoped until the very last moment that the president of the Republic of Poland could be persuaded to play the role assigned to him by organizing internal pressure from Polish “useful idiots”, already used successfully many times to attribute the crimes in Jedwabne to Poland or in other campaigns slandering our country.

Poland’s useful idiots

This wasn’t an unfounded calculation. The opposition, which declared itself at one time as “total opposition”, has already acclimated everyone to the fact that against the government, the president and the parliamentary majority, it is ready to admit that anyone who attacks Poland is right, with total disregard for the substance of the matter, Poland’s interest, and even common sense. The same happened after the announcement of Andrzej Duda’s decision. Ignoring the facts, some opposition media immediately started to attribute the blame for the anti-Polish attitude of the organizers of the forum to the aforementioned amendment to the law of the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN), to the “clumsy diplomacy of the Law and Justice”, which “led to another international embarrassment”, and so on. The climax of these accusations was the statement of the left-wing MP Sterczewski, “by not going to Jerusalem, President Duda deprived himself of the right to have a voice”, and a comment by Jan Grabowski—known for his numerous anti-Polish publications—released on the left-wing website of Krytyka Polityczna, who consider the forum’s decision fully justified because Poland is ruled by “nationalists” who lost the “moral right” to speak about the Shoah, denying Polish responsibility for this crime.

One may say that spreading such statements and reaching out to people like Grabowski is another embarrassment for the “total opposition”, and proof that Poland has no serious alternative for the current government. Unfortunately, even if we acknowledge this, that embarrassment is at the expense of our good name. Wanting to bash the hated government at all costs, its domestic opponents lend credibility and, in the eyes of the West, strengthen Putin’s aggression towards the reputation of our country. For example, the statements made by Gazeta Wyborcza and Newsweek about the alleged mistake of President Duda were immediately quoted by The New York Times—always hostile to Poland and sympathetic to Russia—which was in turn referred to by Tomasz Siemoniak, the former head of the Ministry of Defence and now a candidate for leadership in the PO – Civic Platform party (by the way, this is a constantly recurring mechanism), in his attack on the president. This serves to reinforce the message to the world that the initiators of the campaign against Poland cared about so much: the Polish president “boycotting” the forum, as it was described among other ways by the above mentioned New York Times, with the suggestion that the reason for the boycott is Polish reluctance to commemorate this crime.

This narrative—about the “boycott” of Holocaust commemoration by the Polish authorities—is particularly dangerous for us and particularly useful for the goals that Putin, Netanyahu and the New York racketeers want to achieve. Are we capable of defying it?

Fortunately, Putin’s involvement in the propagandist destruction of Poland’s reputation also had consequences he did not foresee. Speaking mainly to his subordinates—with the typical, brutal Russian rhetoric about scum or anti-Semitic swine—and referring directly to the Stalinist historical narrative—which includes an insinuation that the West only pretended to fight Hitler, deliberately limiting their efforts and postponing D-Day to bleed out Russia to the maximum—Putin shocked and disgusted even some Jewish and liberal-left circles. There, voices also appeared to remind that it was the Stalin-Hitler pact (because this is how it is called in the West, maybe less strictly historical, but more accurate from a communicative standpoint) that opened the way of war, not the Polish entry into Zaolzie. For many Westerners, brought up on local films, the answers and comments after Putin’s brutal attack were perhaps the first opportunity to learn that Stalin was not the good “Uncle Joe”, and the USSR was not an empire of goodness having stopped the greatest criminal in history, and that historical truth is more complicated.

Also, the selection of the guests given the right to speak during the forum was of concern to some Jewish communities. Opinions have emerged, perhaps not yet very numerous but noticeable, that denying the president of Poland the right to speak—the president of the country which lost most of its citizens as a result of the Holocaust and was the first to unsuccessfully try to alert the West about the crime being committed—while at the same time placing the parties of the Stalin-Hitler pact and countries, which today are breaking records in the number of anti-Semitic excesses, at the centre of the event is too thick a mockery of historical truth and common sense.

Will it be enough to weaken the propagandist attack on Poland and limit its effects? It will sound trivial to say that a lot depends on the degree of mobilization of Poles and the efficiency of our institutions, which in the first phase of the campaign, were quite passive. (It is hard to believe that Putin’s choice for the moment of attack being the beginning of the holiday period—traditionally paralyzing for the Polish administrative offices—was an accident). But that’s how it is.


Translated by the Visegrád Post. The points of views expressed within this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the editors. This publication is put forward by the editors in order to provide further information on this subject for our non-Polish reading audience.