I do not understand what is the source of the myth, which seems to be so widespread in the West, that Poland and Poles were or are particularly antisemitic. Not only is it a complete falsehood but a terrible injustice. I will not even mention the utter nonsense of the "Polish" concentration camps. They were Nazi concentration camps built and operated by Nazi Germany (who occupied Poland) and used (together with other means of terror and extermination) by Nazis to murder around 6 million Polish citizens (including 3 million Polish Jews).
The history and facts are quite clear (more information and sources in the next two sections). Poles and Polish culture were the most tolerant and least antisemitic in Europe. Poland has become the safe haven for Jewish communities persecuted throughout Europe. The majority of Jews escaped persecution raging in the other European countries and settled in Poland - and that was one of the reasons (if not the main reason) why Nazi Germany built their concentration camps in that country. Some facts and sources showing that in the next sections.
All that does not imply that there was no antisemitism in Poland. This and other similar evils are present everywhere and no country is free from them. It is just that Poland is historically the least antisemitic (and the most prosemitic) country in Europe and all the large cases of antisemitism in that region occurred when sovereign Poland ceased to exist (and thus could no longer protect its Jewish citizens) and were caused by Russian Empire, Austro-Hungary, Kingdom of Prussia, German Empire, Nazi Germany and Soviet Union - i.e. the countries which banded together to invade Poland and then not only did they persecute Polish Jews (because of antisemitism) but also non-Jewish Poles and worked hard to destroy Polish culture (because of political reasons and antipolonism).
Below are some interesting facts found on the English Wikipedia (seems fairly objective).
|The Reception of the Jews in Poland in the Year 1096. Painting by Jan Matejko|
Hundreds of thousands of unknown heroes of the Holocaust
Polish citizens have the world's highest count of individuals who have been recognised as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem as non-Jews who saved Jews from extermination during the Holocaust.
It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of Poles concealed and aided hundreds of thousands of their Polish-Jewish neighbours. Many of these initiatives were carried out by individuals, but there also existed organised networks of Polish resistance which were dedicated to aiding Jews – most notably, the Żegota organisation.
In German-occupied Poland the task of rescuing Jews was especially difficult and dangerous. All household members were punished by death if a Jew was found concealed in their home or on their property. One study estimates that the number of Poles who were killed by the Nazis for aiding Jews was as high as tens of thousands, 704 of whom were posthumously honoured with medals.
Poland sheltering Jews from European antisemitism for almost 1000 years
The history of the Jews in Poland dates back over 800 years. For centuries, Poland was home to the largest and most significant Jewish community in the world. Poland was the centre of Jewish culture thanks to a long period of statutory religious tolerance and social autonomy.
This ended with the Partitions of Poland which began in 1772, in particular, with the discrimination and persecution of Jews in the Russian Empire.
During World War II there was a nearly complete genocidal destruction of the Polish Jewish community by Nazi Germany, during the 1939–1945 German occupation of Poland and the ensuing Holocaust.
Since the fall of Communism there has been a Jewish revival in Poland, characterised by the annual Jewish Culture Festival, new study programmes at Polish high schools and universities, the work of synagogues such as the Nozyk, and the Museum of the History of Polish Jews.
From the founding of the Kingdom of Poland in 1025 through to the early years of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth created in 1569, Poland was the most tolerant country in Europe. Known as paradisus Iudaeorum (Latin for "Paradise for the Jews"), it became a shelter for persecuted and expelled European Jewish communities and the home to the world's largest Jewish community of the time.
According to some sources, about three-quarters of all Jews lived in Poland by the middle of the 16th century.
After the partitions of Poland in 1795 and the destruction of Poland as a sovereign state, Polish Jews were subject to the laws of the partitioning powers, the increasingly antisemitic Russian Empire, as well as Austro-Hungary and Kingdom of Prussia (later a part of the German Empire). Still, as Poland regained independence in the aftermath of World War I, it was the centre of the European Jewish world with one of world's largest Jewish communities of over 3 million. Antisemitism, however, from both the political establishment and from the general population, common throughout Europe, was a growing problem.
At the start of World War II, Poland was partitioned between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union (see Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact). The war resulted in the death of one-fifth of the Polish population, with 90% or about 3 million of Polish Jewry killed along with approximately 3 million Polish non-Jews.
Although the Holocaust occurred largely in German-occupied Poland, there was little collaboration with the Nazis by its citizens.
Collaboration by individual Poles has been described as smaller than in other occupied countries.
Statistics of the Israeli War Crimes Commission indicate that less than 0.1% of Polish gentiles collaborated with the Nazis.
Examples of Polish gentile attitudes to German atrocities varied widely, from actively risking death in order to save Jewish lives, and passive refusal to inform on them; to indifference, blackmail, and in extreme cases, participation in pogroms such as the Jedwabne pogrom. Grouped by nationality, Poles represent the largest number of people who rescued Jews during the Holocaust.
In the postwar period, many of the approximately 200,000 Jewish survivors registered at Central Committee of Polish Jews or CKŻP (of whom 136,000 arrived from the Soviet Union) left the Communist People's Republic of Poland for the nascent State of Israel and North or South America. Their departure was hastened by the destruction of Jewish institutions, post-war violence and the hostility of the Communist Party to both religion and private enterprise, but also because in 1946–1947 Poland was the only Eastern Bloc country to allow free Jewish aliyah to Israel, without visas or exit permits.
Britain demanded Poland to halt the exodus, but their pressure was largely unsuccessful. Most of the remaining Jews left Poland in late 1968 as the result of the Soviet-sponsored "anti-Zionist" campaign.
- In 1967, following the Six-Day War between Israel and the Arab states, Poland's Communist government, following the Soviet lead, broke off diplomatic relations with Israel and launched an antisemitic campaign under the guise of "anti-Zionism". However, the campaign did not resonate well with the Polish public, as most Poles saw similarities between Israel's fight for survival and Poland's past struggles for independence.
- Many Poles also felt pride in the success of the Israeli military, which was dominated by Polish Jews. The slogan "our Jews beat the Soviet Arabs" (Nasi Żydzi pobili sowieckich Arabów) became popular in Poland.
After the fall of the Communist regime in 1989, the situation of Polish Jews became normalised and those who were Polish citizens before World War II were allowed to renew Polish citizenship.
Religious institutions were revived, largely through the activities of Jewish foundations from the United States. The contemporary Polish Jewish community is estimated to have approximately 20,000 members, though the actual number of Jews, including those who are not actively connected to Judaism or Jewish culture, may be several times larger.