TEL AVIV – A declassified 1946 State Department report documents there was evidence of Poles having “persecuted the Jews as vigorously as did the Germans during the occupation” from 1939 to 1945, and further testifies to widespread antisemitism in the country both before and after the war.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center obtained a copy of the report, titled “The Jews in Poland Since the Liberation,” and shared it with the Jerusalem Post on Wednesday, coinciding with the day a Polish delegation arrived in Israel to amend the text of Poland’s controversial “Holocaust bill,” which criminalizes blaming Poland for Holocaust-related crimes.
According to Post, the document equates Polish and Nazi treatment of the Jewish population and said many Jews even preferred to flee to Germany rather than Poland after the war.
“There is little doubt that the current anti-Jewish manifestations in Poland represent a continuation of activities by rightwing groups that were at work before 1939, when even major political parties had antisemitic programs,” the report, dated May 15, 1946, said. “In other words, there is not much that is essentially new or different in the current antisemitic agitation.
“However, the antisemitic overtones in prewar Polish politics predisposed many Poles to the acceptance of Nazi racial theories, and there is evidence that Poles persecuted the Jews as vigorously as did the Germans during the occupation. The retreating Nazis, moreover, left in their wake a heavy residue of their racial theories. Even before the liberation of Poland, antisemitic propaganda emerged in Polish émigré circles.”
The report documents how antisemitism “reached such dimensions in the Polish Army under General Wladyslaw Anders that many Jewish soldiers felt compelled to desert those forces and seek enlistment with other Allied armies.”
During 1944 and 1945, the document said, Jews had been killed in large numbers, “allegedly by members of the Polish Home Guard (Armia Krajowa), the armed force formed by and loyal to the Government-in-Exile.”
According to Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the report diametrically opposes the current claim by Polish leaders that antisemitism in the country was the result of post-war communism.
As the State Department report shows, antisemitism and treating Jews as second-class citizens was par for the course long before the war and certainly before the communists took hold of Poland. The report points to both religious leaders and senior officials explicitly putting antisemitic notions into practice.
“In the jockeying for political preference in Poland after 1919, most of the major political parties – with the exception of leftist groups – followed an antisemitic line,” the report said. “Catholic Church leaders, from Cardinal Hlond down, preached antisemitism and favored an economic boycott of the Jews. Polish nationalists sought to win peasant and working-class support by attributing many of Poland’s internal difficulties to the Jews. Lawless elements attacked Jews, adding physical peril to the already discouraging social and economic conditions.”
The argument put forth by Poland that while some Poles may have mistreated Jews during the war, antisemitism was not widespread in Polish society is “absolutely not true,” Hier said. The State Department document “absolutely tells a different story and one that would be very difficult for the president of Poland to deny.”
“So violent have been the antisemitic incidents reported – and so widespread is the fear for their lives among the handful of Jewish survivors – that some Polish Jews have been reported seeking to escape to the American Zone in Germany rather than remain in Poland,” the report said.
“Others, who have gone back to Poland, are reported to be returning to Western Germany after only a short stay. Polish Jews in displaced persons centers in Germany have, moreover, almost unanimously declined to return to their former homeland,” the document said.
Hier said, “It’s very important that this report be made public so that people all over the world can read a 1946 assessment of the issue of how Polish Jews were treated in Poland.”
Hier said that bringing the report to the foreground will provide an insight into why Jews in Israel reacted so harshly to the Polish legislation. He stressed that the Simon Wiesenthal Center was supportive of Poland and his organization brings hundreds of visitors to the country with frequency. “They have to acknowledge that antisemitism in Poland was a problem of longevity. You just have to read this report, which was not written by Jews, to see how real antisemitism was in Poland,” he said.
The bill prescribes prison time or fines for those who blame Poles as a nation for crimes committed by Nazi Germany during World War II.
Polish President Andrzej Duda’s authorization of the bill caused consternation in the U.S., with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson saying that it could result in “repercussions” for Poland’s relationship with the U.S.
“Enactment of this law adversely affects freedom of speech and academic inquiry,” Tillerson said.
In its current form, the bill stipulates that any individual who accuses Poland of being responsible for “crimes against peace and humanity” will be subject to a fine or prison sentence.
“Whoever accuses, publicly and against the facts, the Polish nation, or the Polish state, of being responsible or complicit in the Nazi crimes committed by the Third German Reich … or other crimes against peace and humanity, or war crimes, or otherwise grossly diminishes the actual perpetrators thereof, shall be subject to a fine or a penalty of imprisonment of up to three years,” a translation of the bill reads.