I have recently been saddened to hear of the controversy between Israel and Poland over the bill introduced in the Polish legislature to ban the phrase, "Polish death camps". As a Judeo-Christian Zionist and also an American son of Polish heritage, I have a vantage point from both sides of the issue. At the heart of the controversy is the language in the bill that would actually "fine or jail people who blamed Poland or Poles for Nazi atrocities committed on its soil during World War II, including the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Jews at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp." (Washington Post, Jan. 28)
Education and Diaspora Minister Naftali Bennett inflamed the discussion with his remarks: "It is a historic fact that many Poles aided in the murder of Jews, handed them in, abused them, and even killed Jews during and after the Holocaust..." and encouraged the idea that Polish culpability should be taught to the next generation of Israelis. (DW.com, Jan. 28)
As of this writing, Prime Minister Netanyahu and Prime Minister Morawiecki are in discussions to ease the tension that this incident has created.
Naturally, the Israelis are concerned that this bill creates a road leading to a place where Holocaust denial is not only legalized, but mandated in the very nation that still houses the monuments of horror from the Shoah. The death camps remain the only lasting evidence as the last generation of Holocaust survivors passes into history—and certainly, this must not change.
Poland has seen a surge of nationalism in the wake of the Muslim invasion of Europe, and it seeks to preserve its culture, heritage, and reputation, rightfully insisting that it was Nazi agression that built these camps, not the Polish nation. This bill is a direct reaction to Barack Obama's reference to "Polish death camps" even as he gave a medal to a Polish resistance fighter in 2012 (New York Times, May 30, 2012). Poland is increasingly weary of being partially blamed for Nazi crimes—and understandably so.
As a Judeo-Christian Zionist, I am among those who believe that Israel has a right not only to the land specified by the Balfour declaration, but for its borders to be expanded to the Biblical definition: from the Nile to the Euphrates, and from the Mediterranean to the Jordan and the three Transjordan tribal lands. I fully support Jerusalem as the undivided capital of the Jewish state; I love the Jewish people, and most definitely agree that the Shoah should be remembered in perpetuity. I understand the desire for Jews to have the world perceive the Shoah as an event singularly borne of genocidal hatred of Jews by the Nazis to which the world was at least apathetic if not compliant until it was too late to do much about it. This is mostly true; but if anyone else has the ability to lay some claim on the Shoah for their own suffering, it is Poland.
Even if there were thousands of Polish anti-Semites leading up to WWII who actively assisted the Nazis in the murder of their Jewish neighbors (a very liberal exaggeration), this pales in comparison to the number of Poles who were massacred alongside the Jews. Half of the 6 million Jews who died in the Shoah were Polish citizens; 2 million non-Jewish Polish citizens were also butchered in the same facilities. If they are to be called "Polish death camps", it is because 5 million Polish citizens died there—not because they were the engineers of the travesty. We forget that Slavic ethnicity was also on Hitler's extermination list—right under the Jews. Furthermore, another 250,000 Jewish and non-Jewish Polish citizens died together bravely and passionately resisting the German army, hopelessly outnumbered and pathetically outgunned, because they were actively betrayed by the United States, Great Britain, and the former Soviet Union culminating with the Council of Yalta. And whereas the Providential blessing after the war resulted in the prophetic rebirth of the free and democratic Jewish state of Israel, Poland's fate was to suffer under the oppressive boot of the former Soviet Union, languishing in poverty and fear as a Communist puppet—a minor bloc nation propped up for photo-op propaganda until the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. So, like it or not, the Shoah is ours, too. This is why Pope John Paul II allowed the cross to remain at Auschwitz-Birkenau placed by well-meaning Carmelite nuns; while to the Jew it is an affront representing the history of Christian anti-Semitism, to Polish Christians it is a reminder of the millions of their people who died there as well.
Though I don't expect this message will be seen, I would encourage the Polish government to temper the language of this bill to be a simple declaration. Forget about this talk of fines and imprisonment—focus on the truth. Admit that a small percentage of Polish citizens indeed did assist the Nazis, and teach your sons and daughters to think differently. Polish nationalism is not a bad thing until it crosses the line to blanket xenophobia; the Muslim invasion currently affecting Europe is an entirely different element than that of the too-often maligned Jewish community that made Poland its center for a thousand years, contributing to the nation's culture, cuisine, language, and ethics. Please be educated—understand and teach the difference. Don't allow the movement for nationalistic pride to descend into hatred.
To Israel I would say that aside from the United States, there is no greater ally with regard for remembrance of the Shoah than Poland. No other Gentile nation has more stake in saying, "Never again". Rather than making a focal point of the hatred that was fomented by some, revisit the stories of those who defied Nazi aggression and smuggled Jews out of harm's way to freedom, often sacrificing themselves to do so. Recognize the truth that all groups contain bad apples, but be a repairer of the breach—do not for the sake of politics throw away a partnership with a nation that understands your grief like no other. Allow them to mourn their dead alongside of yours. While there is much healing work to be done by Christians for their persecution of Jews through the centuries, take the first step and express gratitude to the nation that, for the most part, allowed Jews to live peacefully among them for a millennium—it was a far different experience in neighboring Russia and around the countries of Europe.
This is a needless crisis that can be minimized if both parties can reach beyond their own interests. I pray that God will allow them to do so.