Thumbing its nose at world censure of its new law that outlaws the mention of “Polish death camps” and Polish atrocities against Jews, the Polish government last week ramped up its campaign to silence its critics. Polish citizens living abroad are now being urged to report violators of the new law to the nearest Polish embassy.
In simple language, Poles are being asked to rat on their compatriots (and other offenders).
Polish citizens are being encouraged to report to authorities all anti-Polish comments and opinions that could hurt the country and harm Poland’s reputation. The Polish “Holocaust Law” promises to impose fines and incarcerations on the guilty parties.
Is it possible to miss the supreme irony here? The ruling Law and Justice party [PiS] is grooming its loyal citizens to become informers and betrayers, while at the same time affecting outrage at charges that Poles carried out reprehensible conduct of this very sort under the Nazis.
Aimed at silencing reports of Polish wrongdoing, the government’s plan has disastrously boomeranged. For the past several weeks, ever since the “Holocaust Law” began making its way through Parliament, foreign media have been recounting the details of Polish wartime atrocities. To the frustration of Polish officials, the media have been educating the public about Polish mass murders such as the Yadobna (Jedwabne) massacre, the post-Holocaust pogrom in Kielce and other outpourings of bestiality by Poles on Polish soil.
Historians who have documented the Jew-hunting sprees by Poles that brought about the murder and betrayal of tens of thousands of Jews have been quoted in numerous articles. Seeking to bury this gruesome history, the Polish government instead triggered a wave of Holocaust education about it.
Judenjagd (Jew Hunts)
The world, for example, learned about Judenjagd in Nazi-occupied Poland. Noted historian Jan Grabowski of Ottawa, author of “Hunt for the Jews; Murder and Betrayal in German-Occupied Poland,” explains that the Nazis’ relentless campaign to slaughter every Jew didn’t stop after the ghettos were liquidated. It continued in the form of organized Judenjagd (hunting for the Jews) which were manned by Poles.
The Polish-born Grabowski offers the following explanation for the widespread participation of rank and file Poles in the terrifying judenjagd. “At a certain point, when torture and extermination is condoned, even encouraged by the authorities, it becomes normal. Because the victims are cast as no longer entirely human, many began to perceive them that way. Once you dehumanize someone, everything becomes much easier.”
Whether from hate, greed or sheer sadism, some Poles began to organize Jew hunts on their own, without Nazi directives.
In Hunt for the Jews, the author recounts the untold story of the leading participation of the Polish “blue” police, an armed police force working under the Nazis. These people used their familiarity with the area, aided by networks of informants, to track down Jews in hiding.
In a document Grabowski found in the archives of a small Polish town, Polish doctor Zygmunt Klukowski recorded how, with the SS gone after the liquidation of the Jewish community, “today it is the turn of ‘our’ gendarmes and our ‘blue’ policemen, who were told to kill every Jew on the spot. They follow these orders with great joy. Throughout the day, they pulled the Jews from various hideouts” and, after robbing them, “finished them off in plain sight of everyone.”
In addition to unwittingly educating today’s generation about Holocaust crimes it would prefer the world forgets, Poland’s ruling party has drawn fire for its right-wing policies that have threatened press freedom, judiciary independence and European unity. The Holocaust law or “death camps law” as some refer to it, is seen by European and American leaders as representing the government’s increasing encroachment on civic freedoms.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the legislation “adversely affects freedom of speech,” and Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel castigated the law as a form of Holocaust denial, reported the New York Times and other news outlets.
“The government’s law is less about correcting the record than twisting Poland’s national story into one of historical victimhood – and casting skeptics as traitors,” wrote a leading European paper.
Instead of softening its stance and the Holocaust law’s wording, Prime Minister Morawiecki threw fuel on the fire by suggesting that Jews bore some responsibility for the crimes perpetrated against their people. “There were Polish perpetrators as there were Jewish perpetrators, as there were Russian perpetrators as well as Ukrainian perpetrators….” the Polish official said, stirring outrage at the bizarre moral equivalency.
“The government’s political missteps have left it ostracized inside Europe and alienated from allies, including America and Israel. Yet while many Polish voters hate this, a growing number do not: PiS commands almost 50% support in polls,” the Economist commented. The article noted that “international scorn is actually fueling the PiS’s claim that only they, the Law and Justice party, can be relied on to defend the honor of the Polish nation.”
Anti-Shechitah Legislation Follows on the Heels of “Death Camp” Law
Just one week after passing the “Death Camp law,” the PiS sponsored a new “animal rights” bill that includes a clause that would criminalize kosher slaughter.
The law stipulates that animals cannot be slaughtered unless they stand on all four feet during the process. Kosher slaughter typically involves lifting the animal in order to eliminate pressure on the knife, which would cause the animal pain, thus invalidating the shechitah.
If the law is passed, anyone found guilty of slaughtering animals in accordance with Orthodox Jewish practice would face a prison sentence of up to 4 years.
The timing of the renewed attempt to ban shechitah is likely anything but accidental, experts say. Given the history of anti-Semitism in Poland where laws banning shechitah were first passed in 1936, it’s hardly surprising that the campaign is revving up again at the same time that laws whitewashing Polish wartime conduct have been implemented.
Kosher slaughter was banned by the Polish Parliament in 2013 but legalized again in 2014 by Poland’s high court, following protests by the Jewish community supported by influential voices in the EU. Yet anti-shechitah forces continued to agitate.
“Populism and nationalism are skyrocketing and creating wars with the Jews for political purposes,” European Jewish Association chairman Rabbi Menachem Margolin told the Independent. “There is an unclear desire here to exclusively harm kosher slaughter and limit kosher meat exports. They are failing to explain the logic of the law.”
“These restrictions on kosher slaughter are in complete contradiction to the principle of freedom of religion basic to the European Union,” Rabbi Margolin added. “I can’t imagine what the next stage will be after the Holocaust law and imposing restrictions on kosher slaughter in the country.”
With the Law and Justice party currently in power supported by a right-wing nationalist constituency with strong Catholic underpinnings, the outlook for shechitah in Poland does not bode well.
Long History of Anti-Shechitah Incitement
Many view the animal rights bill that would outlaw shechitah within the context of a long history of campaigns against ritual slaughter in Poland, where anti-Semitism has been historically stoked by members of the Catholic clergy.
In her groundbreaking two-volume work, Hidden In Thunder (originally published in Hebrew as B’seser Raam), Professor Esther Farbstein, one of Israel’s leading Holocaust historians, wrote of “Agudath Israel’s bitter disappointment in not being able to prevent passage of a 1936 law banning kosher slaughter in the Sejm (Polish Parliament).”
Their disappointment, she noted, was compounded by the leadership’s realization that their cooperation with the Polish government between the two wars as well as Jewish loyalty had yielded nothing in return.
This severe letdown, the rise to power of Hitler in the 1930s and the blatant escalation of anti-Semitism in Poland was a wake up call to these leaders and rabbonim about the mounting danger facing Polish Jewry.
In the years leading up to the outbreak of war, writes Farbstein, Polish anti-Semitism received legal backing as in the “Numerus Clauses,” whereby restrictions on the admission of Jews to universities was established by special legislation.
Authorities began taking anti-Jewish discriminatory measures even further, introducing the system of “Jewish benches.” These were special benches set up at the back of the auditoriums and classrooms to be used only by Jews (reminiscent of segregation policies against African Americans in the South). Jewish students in many institutions rebelled against these regulations, refusing to sit on the assigned benches. This frequently led to serious clashes in the universities, resulting in bloodshed and tragedy.
“Numerus Clauses was an outgrowth of Catholic Jew-hatred in combination with anti-Semitic racism at the grassroots level,” noted Farbstein. “This hatred so pervaded Polish society that under Nazi occupation, the masses never needed an explicit order to assault, rob or murder their Jewish neighbors. The general atmosphere gave them the license to commit these crimes.”