Israeli President in Poland: Many Poles Aided in Murder of Jews

President Reuven Rivlin said Monday that while many Poles fought against Nazi Germany, many also “aided in the murder of Jews,” while in Poland to meet with Polish President Andrzej Duda and attend a ceremony marking 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz.

Rivlin met with Duda, who had boycotted the International Holocaust Forum at Yad Vashem after his demand to speak was denied, in Krakow ahead of the ceremony in Auschwitz. The meeting came against the backdrop of tensions between the two states over the historical memory of Polish involvement in the Holocaust during WWII. 

– Haaretz Weekly Ep. 58

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 58Haaretz

Ahead of their meeting, Rivlin and Duda laid a wreath at a statue of Witold Pilecki, a Polish resistance hero who volunteered to be imprisoned in Auschwitz, authored the first major comprehensive report of a Holocaust death camp to reach the Allies, and escaped in 1943 before ultimately being executed by the Soviets in 1948.

Poland’s President Andrzej Duda walks along with survivors through the gates of the Auschwitz Nazi concentration camp in Oswiecim, Poland, Jan. 27, 2020. AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski

The day of remembrance is held annually on January 27, and this year it marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Rivlin took part in the ceremony marking the anniversary, which included remarks by Duda, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, World Jewish Congress President Ron Lauder, and head of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum head Piotr Cywiski, as well as camp survivors.

"We remember that the Polish people fought with courage against Nazi Germany, but we also remember that quite a few of the Polish people stood aside and even aided in the murder of Jews,” Rivlin said. Rivlin mentioned the thousands of Poles who saved the lives of Jews during the Holocaust, the “Righteous Among the Nations,” but added these people "were few, too few." 

Regarding Polish responsibility during the war, Rivlin said: "Nazi Germany was the one who initiated, planned and carried out the genocide of the Jewish people in Poland, as well as in other places, and it bears full responsibility for its actions.” But, he added, “We also remember, in great horror, that it received significant aid in its murderous actions throughout all of Europe, and this too requires accepting responsibility.”

Poland’s President Andrzej Duda and Zofia Optulowicz, the daughter of Polish World War II resistance leader Witold Pilecki, attend a ceremony at Auschwitz in Oswiecim, Poland, Jan. 27, 2020.AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski

Following the meeting with Rivlin, Duda addressed his decision not to attend the World Holocaust Forum in Israel. Dude protested the fact that Poland was not included among the list of countries that had fought against the Nazis in the video shown at the beginning of the ceremony at Yad Vashem. He added that he believed the event was biased because of the involvement of the European Jewish Congress, which is headed by Moshe Kantor, a close associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin.