To the Editor:
For centuries, Polish-Jewish interaction has rarely been positive, mainly been bad, and, occasionally been ugly (“The Dark Return of Polish Anti-Semitism,” March). As Ben Cohen makes clear, the recent IPN Act has already unleashed dormant raw anti-Semitism among a range of Poles. Poland has long profited financially from Nazi death-camp tours and faux-Jewish cultural venues. Extreme nationalists evidently now seek to cash in further on a bowdlerized Holocaust.
Though Poland certainly suffered grievously during WWII and afterwards, and the records show a few heroic Poles who harbored Jews at the most critical hour, it cannot be allowed to escape its collective shameful past. The Jedwabne and Kielce pogroms are emblematic of a pitch-black time when hidden Jews faced constant fatal exposure and when beleaguered fighters feared Polish partisans nearly as much as they did their common foe.
The best response to the latest Polish affront would take the form of a renewed effort by scholars to fearlessly and fully expose the historical record.
Richard D. Wilkins
Syracuse, New York
Ben Cohen writes:
Richard Wilkins is entirely correct when he asserts that historians are in the forefront of the battle over Holocaust commemoration—a battle that the Polish government has regrettably made necessary with its amended IPN Act. But there is a separate, if related, battle against contemporary anti-Semitism in Poland, and that requires leadership of another kind.
In the time that has passed since President Duda signed the IPN Act into law, Poland has been awash with a phenomenon more commonly seen in Western Europe: widespread anti-Semitic prejudice rooted in a grisly competition with Jews over victimhood. This is coupled with indignant denials that the slanders and attacks on individual Jews (or perceived Jewish sympathizers, or “the Jews” as a collective) can be legitimately deemed “anti-Semitic.” As the Palestinian leadership has done for decades, Polish government ministers and parliamentarians now accuse the Jews of exaggerating and exploiting the Holocaust for political and financial gain. Any Pole who resists this view is, they say, probably a Jew.
What Mr. Wilkins identifies as “raw anti-Semitism” continues to seep forth, especially on Polish state-owned media. Our elected politicians and our generously funded human-rights organizations should be encouraged to make this fight their fight.