POLAND - President Reuven Rivlin told his Polish counterpart Thursday that it is impossible to deny the fact that the Nazis could not have carried out their mass murder of Jews during World War II had they not received help.
Speaking during the March of the Living at Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Poland to mark Holocaust Memorial Day, Rivlin told President Andrzej Duda that Israel would never forget the thousands of Righteous among the Nations that Poland produced who saved Jews from their Nazi hunters, but Poles, along with many other ordinary citizens across Europe, collaborated in the Final Solution.
“The people of Poland produced thousands of ‘Righteous among the Nations.’ Men and women who put their own lives and the lives of their dear ones at risk for the sake of others. And they too are remembered, and we will remember and honour each of those men and women forever,” Rivlin promised.
“Nevertheless, it is impossible to deny the truth. The Nazi death machine would not have been able to achieve its terrible vision, if it had not received help; if it had not found a fertile ground of hatred for Jews, in which to take root,” he continued.
The two presidents also met before joining thousands of young Israelis and Jews from elsewhere in the world in their March of the Living.
Rivlin’s comments come on the heels of Poland’s recent ratification of the Holocaust law that imposes prison sentences of up to three years for mentioning the term "Polish death camps" and for suggesting "publicly and against the facts" that the Polish nation or state was complicit in Nazi Germany's crimes.
Israel says it is an attempt to whitewash Polish history and their part in the Nazi genocide, while Poland says it is an attempt to safeguard the truth, and distinguish between the acts of Nazis and Poles.
“True, it was Germany that established the camps, but our people were not murdered only in the camps. The members of our nation were betrayed by the people amongst whom they lived, in France, in Holland, and in Belgium. They were murdered by Ukrainians, Lithuanians and yes ̶ also by Poles,” the Israeli president told Duda, who had accompanied him on the march.
Too many citizens in Eastern Europe and in Western Europe, Rivlin went on, “stole Jewish property, took control of Jewish homes, handed over their Jewish neighbours, murdered them, and turned their backs on those who, just a moment before, had been a part of them.”
He also reminded Duda that the anti-Semitism suffered by the Jews in Poland did not always require a German Nazi presence. “And when the survivors of the Holocaust returned after the war, they were sometimes met with hostility, violence, pogroms and murder,” he said.
At the same time, Rivlin began by acknowledging the suffering that the Polish nation had endured under Nazi occupation.
“Your Excellency, President of Poland, The Polish nation barely survived the Second World War. In September 1939, Poland had become the greatest field of death, murder and destruction in Europe. It was an area under Nazi occupation, and the Poles were an oppressed people, living in fear. There was also a Polish underground resistance and a Polish Government in exile,” Rivlin said to Duda as he opened his remarks.
However, he sought to draw a distinction between the deaths and suffering by the Poles as part of the war and the genocide of the Jews as part of the Holocaust.
“Polish people were killed and murdered in the cruel War, we, the Jews, were slaughtered in the Holocaust. A Holocaust that included not only concentration camps, but also killing pits, ghettoes, forced labour, and pogroms,” Rivlin stressed.
“A Holocaust that included the slaughter and murder and death through torture, of one and a half million babies and children, whose only sin was that they were born Jewish.”
Turning to the Holocaust law, Rivlin said that while he understood that nations have a need to construct their own historical narrative, “no nation can legislate their forgetting. For no legislation can cover over the blood. No self-interest can cover over anti-Semitism, racism, hatred of the other. Not in Austria, not in France, not in Holland not in Belgium, and above all, not in Germany.”