Jews have been an integral part of Polish society almost since the birth of the Polish state. Their presence grew over the years thanks to Poland’s tolerance. It was in Poland that large groups of Jews—expelled from other areas of Europe—settled to live in peace, pursue business, practice their religion and cherish their tradition. Furthermore, Jews fought together with the Poles for the independence of their common country.
Since regaining independence in 1989, Poland has made every effort to make the cooperation and dialogue between our nations an example for the whole world to follow.
In 2013, Warsaw saw the opening of the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, which documents our common past. It is now one of the most frequently visited museums in Poland.
What also testifies to the strength of our common experience is the fact that Polish textbooks are rich in works by Poles of Jewish origin. For instance, every single child in Poland knows poems by Jan Brzechwa.
Prior to the Second World War, Poland had one of the largest communities of Jews in the world. Importantly, after regaining independence in 1918, Poland was home to more than 3 million Jews, one of the largest diasporas in the world. This was the reason why in 1939 the Third German Reich established ghettos for Jews from the occupied areas and German death camps on Polish soil, including the General Governorate.
Major German occupation camps and German death camps within the so-called Greater Germany in 1941-1944.
Poland was the only German-occupied country during the Second World War without any organizations that collaborated with Hitler’s Germany or a puppet occupation government. In Poland, any form of assistance given to Jews, such as providing them with food, was punished by the Germans with death. Even so, the Polish constitute the largest group of the Righteous among the Nations.
Let the name of the Eternal be praised.
Brothers in Israel, Citizens of the Republic of Poland!
The eternal enemy has dishonourably and despicably invaded our so strongly beloved country - Poland. (…)
We, the Jews, children of this land since time immemorial, we all stand in rank on the call of the President of the Republic of Poland and the Commander –in-Chief in order to defend our beloved Homeland, each at his assigned station and we will sacrifice our lives and our property on the altar of the Fatherland, whenever this is needed. This is our most important civil and religious duty, according to our Holy Faith’s orders, and we will fulfil it with the greatest pleasure. So help us and Poland God.
The Board and the High Council of Rabbis of the Republic of Poland
2 September 1939
The Polish civilian population and, subsequently, the Polish Government-in-Exile and the Underground State provided Jews with assistance on a large scale from the beginning of the Second World War.
The Poles gathered information on the persecution and murder of Jews by the German Third Reich, as well as providing them with material aid. Most importantly, they risked their own lives and the lives of their families by hiding Jews to protect them against deportation to concentration camps and ghettos. They hid also escapees.
This does not mean that there were no dishonourable exceptions—Polish people who raised their hands against their Jewish brothers and sisters. There were such cases and the adopted bill does not preclude any debate or research in this respect.
„“At this point, I have to mention that the Polish people are giving all possible aid and sympathy to the Jews. The solidarity of the Polish population has two dimensions: first, a common misery; second, a common fight against an inhuman occupier. The fight against the persecutors is waged constantly, persistently, underground, even in the ghetto, in conditions that are too horrible and inhuman to describe or imagine. (…) The Polish and Jewish populations are in constant contact, exchanging newspapers, information and orders. The walls of the ghetto have not actually separated the Jews from the Polish. Polish and Jewish people continue to fight together for a common goal as they did for many years in the past”
Szmul Zygielbojm, Secretary General of the Jewish Section of the Central Committee of Trade Unions and a member of the National Council of the Polish Government-in-Exile in London 1942
The Polish state was dismantled during the Second World War by the German Reich and Soviet Russia. Nevertheless, during the brutal and bloody German occupation, the Polish Underground State protected the lives of its Jewish citizens.
The Polish Underground State – one of the best-organised in its kind under German occupation – punished people, so-called szmalcowniks, who informed on Jews with death.
Polish people established “Żegota”, an organisation that helped to save thousands of Jews. We should also remember that the Polish constitute the largest group of the Righteous among the Nations. They are heroes who risked their lives to save other people.
“He was sentenced to death by the Germans for saving thousands of Jews, including me, from certain death during the Holocaust. His wife was sent together with Hungarian Jews to the concentration camp in Ravensbrück.”
Henryk Zimmermann during a ceremony where Henryk Sławik was awarded with the Medal of the Righteous among the Nations in Yad Vashem on 6 November 1990.
As a nation, we lost the largest percentage of its population compared with the pre-war period: about 6 million people, including 3 million Jews.
Moreover, thousands of our art works and prints were lost forever. Many cities were destroyed, including the capital city, which was razed to the ground on Hitler’s order.
The Polish Underground State stated officially that assisting the occupier in denouncing Jews would be punished by death.
25 % of recipients of the medal of the Righteous among the Nations, awarded by the World Holocaust Remembrance Centre “Yad Vashem”, are Polish.
It was thanks to reports drawn up by Poles - Pilecki and Karski - that the world learnt about the Holocaust
Pilecki’s reports – After Captain Witold Pilecki volunteered to enter Auschwitz-Birkenau in September 1940, the command of the Polish underground army began to receive reports on the situation in the German death camp. Pilecki sent a number of intelligence reports and established a resistance movement in Auschwitz.
Karski’s reports – Two reports prepared by Jan Karski described crimes committed against Jews in German-occupied Poland. Their translations were provided to the leaders of the allied powers. On 28 July 1943, Karski met F. D. Roosevelt in person to inform him about the situation of the Jews.
Raczyński’s memo – a diplomatic memorandum from the Polish Government-in-Exile of 10 December 1942 regarding the persecution and murder of the Jewish population in German-occupied Poland. It was the first public and official report on the Holocaust.
Irena Sendler – saved some 2,500 Jewish children. She received a medal of the Righteous among the Nations and was twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Henryk Sławik – organised aid for thousands of Polish refugees (including Jews) in Hungary. He was killed as punishment for his activity in the Mauthausen-Gusen German concentration camp on 23 August 1944. He was awarded with the title of the Righteous among the Nations.
On 18 December 1942, Władysław Raczkiewicz, President of the Republic of Poland in Exile, sent a letter to Pope Pius XII, asking him for the public protection of murdered Poles and Jews.
The “Żegota” Council to Aid Jews under the auspices of the Delegation for Poland of the Polish Government in Exile a Polish underground organisation operating from 1942 to 1945 as a body of the Polish Government-in-Exile whose task was to organise aid for Jews. It saved thousands of Jews by issuing about 60 thousand false documents, finding shelter for Jews, providing money for families and monasteries that hid Jews, as well as many other operations. The organisation was established at the initiative of a Catholic activist and writer, Zofia Kossak Szczucka. The Council received funds for its activity mostly from the budget of the Polish Underground State, supported mainly by the Polish Government in London. The organisation has its own tree in Yad Vashem.
The Ulma Family – an example of Polish sacrifice in the cause of providing assistance to Jews. Józef Ulma and his heavily pregnant wife Wiktoria, along with their six children, were murdered by the German policy for
Crime in Siedliska – the murder of five members of the Baranek family and four Jews whom they were hiding, committed by the German occupiers on 15 March 1942.
On 5 August 1944, during the Warsaw Uprising, the soldiers of the “Zośka” Batallion liberated the Jewish prisoners of the KL Warschau German Concentration Camp, risking their own lives.
Unfortunately, the expression “Polish concentration camps” and other statements accusing the Polish nation, contrary to the facts, of complicity in the Holocaust appear in the public arena all over the world. The new legal regulations modelled on the laws of other countries as well as diplomatic activity will make it possible to rectify this harmful fallacy.
Many Polish people were killed as punishment for assisting Jews during the Second World War. This is why we as the state have to prevent all attempts to accuse Polish people, contrary to the facts, of responsibility for the Holocaust.
This is a fight for the truth about the Second World War and the crimes committed against the Jews at that time. We owe this truth both to the victims of the Second World War and to those who died as heroes to save other people.
Poland will always fight for the memory and truth about the Holocaust. There can be no recollection without the truth. The immensity of human suffering and our debt to those who sacrificed their lives requires the Polish government to protect the good name of the Republic of Poland and its citizens. This does not mean that Poland denies any disgraceful acts perpetrated by some Polish citizens against Jews. We cannot, however, allow Poland to be blamed for the sins of others.
The fight against the term “Polish concentration camp” has been conducted in the diplomatic area, but this has proved insufficient. Since 2008 until now, the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs has intervened against the use of such false expressions 1259 times.
In a well-publicised case brought by a former prisoner of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Karol Tendera, against ZDF, the Court of Appeal in Kraków stated that “the expression ‘Polish death camps’ infringed the personal rights of the claimant (…) such as human dignity, national identity and national dignity. It is a false expression that falsifies history and suggests that the Polish nation committed the Nazi crimes”.
Other courts have confirmed that unjust statements about the alleged “Polish concentration camps” entitle each member of the Polish nation to initiate legal proceedings. The legislation at that time forced elderly Holocaust survivors to lead a lonely fight for the truth about our nation. It is the duty of the state to preserve the honour and memory of those who survived the brutal German occupation. This is why the legal vacuum in this respect had to change.
The bill explicitly guarantees freedom of research and artistic activity. Its aim is not to prevent historians from conducting research but to counteract false accusations of responsibility for or complicity in the crimes committed by Nazi Germany hurled against the Polish state and the entire Polish nation.
It will not be a punishable offence to indicate disgraceful instances of crimes committed by specific people of any nationality. The bill protects the historical truth and the good name of the Polish state and nation. It does not protect criminals, whatever their nationality, in any way.
The bill indicates with sufficient precision certain conduct that will be subject to punishment: accusing the Polish state or the Polish nation of being responsible for or complicit in the Nazi crimes committed by the German Third Reich.
It should be also emphasised that the expression “Polish death camps” is not the only a false phrase that attributes the blame for complicity in the German crimes to the Polish people; this is why the bill refers to all such acts without narrowing its scope to individual expressions. The bill, if introduced, will be enforced in the same way as in the case of Holocaust denial, for instance.
In 16 countries of the OSCE, defamation and insult of the state is punishable. Many other legal systems, including the Israeli one, have similar regulations that prohibit disseminating lies about the Holocaust and punish them with imprisonment. This is also the case with Poland. Holocaust denial currently also includes false statements about “Polish death camps” or unsupported accusations of Poland’s responsibility for the Holocaust, which diminish the fault of the actual perpetrators of those crimes. Furthermore, the provisions of the bill on the Institute of National Remembrance are based on the guidelines for Council Framework Decision 2008/913, which allow the members states to adopt criminal law rules that combat against the phenomenon of diminishing the crimes of the German Third Reich. To confuse the perpetrator with the victim is to diminish the extent and horror of those crimes. It is unacceptable to associate the victim—the Polish state—with the perpetrator: Nazi Germany.
The Jewish Nation and the Polish Nation are the greatest victims of the murderous and totalitarian machine of the German Third Reich.
Poland cannot allow defiling the memory of those victims with false accusations of the responsibility or complicity of the Polish nation and the Polish state in the crimes committed by the Germans. To preserve the historical truth, we must prevent diminishing the extent of the German crimes, perpetuating false stereotypes, blurring the true role of Germany in the crimes committed against our Jewish and Polish citizens, as well as confusing the boundaries between the perpetrators of the crimes and their victims. Neither should we avoid the truth about people who betrayed their compatriots and assisted in organised genocide, even if they represented only a tiny minority of the whole nation.