Jewish Students Stand Against the Holocaust Bill passed by Poland.
The thousands of exceptional young Jews represented by the European Union of Jewish Students are a true testament to the outstanding and improbable revival of Jewish life in Europe after the Second World War. This revival would not have been possible without a burdensome effort towards dialogue and reconciliation between Jews and other nationals in the countries affected by the German Nazi regime. All these countries must navigate the fine line between victimhood and complicity and accept the role that they have to a lesser or larger extent played in the perpetuation of the Holocaust.
Among these, Poland is both different and the same. Unlike many other countries, the Polish regime was not collaborationist. If anything, no other country was affected so drastically, with six million of its citizens murdered - three million Jews and three million ethnic Poles. Indeed, we cannot speak of “Polish death camps” or “Polish concentration camps”. This formulation is inaccurate and unacceptable. What we also cannot do is ignore the antisemitism endemic to pre-war and war-time Poland and the many Polish individuals who collaborated with the German Nazi regime against Jews. We cannot ignore the Poles who outed or extorted money from Jews in hiding or the Poles who rounded up Jews for the extermination camps. We cannot ignore the antisemitic pogroms during and after the war, most notably the 1941 pogrom in Jedwabne, in which four hundred Jews were set on fire by their neighbours.
History is complex; It is rarely black and white and any attempt to simplify it is an injury to the millions who perished and, in fact, to the almost seven thousand Polish “Righteous Among the Nations” who risked their lives to save their Polish Jewish neighbors and who are recognised and celebrated today at Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to victims of the Holocaust.
Seventy-three years after the liberation of Auschwitz, as survivors pass away and those alive during the Second World War are no longer with us, the responsibility of keeping the memory of the Shoah alive, the responsibility of “Never Again” and of “We Remember” is more important than ever. Young people, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, have the essential mission and moral obligation to take the stories of those who survived to the ears of those who will never know survivors. Seventy-three years after the liberation of Auschwitz, this process is being blatantly hindered by the changes introduced by the Polish parliament and approved by President Andrzej Duda to the Act on the Institute of National Remembrance.
We must have a heightened sensitivity to the genuine attempts of Poland to heal itself of the dark horrors of the Second World War. But we must be adamant in saying that this healing will never occur without an honest and open dialogue and it will never occur without a commitment to education rather than condemnation.
The student activists of the European Union of Jewish Students supported by the student activists of the World Union of Jewish Students and by powerful voices around the world will continue to nurture the memory of the Shoah through an unshakable pledge to education and dialogue. We hope that the Polish Government will follow in our footsteps.
Alina Bricman President European Union of Jewish Students
Avigayil Benstein President World Union of Jewish Students