The Dispute Over World War II That Is Causing a Major Rift Between Poland and Russia

Ahead of the International Holocaust Forum convention Thursday at Yad Vashem, a diplomatic spat has developed between Russia and Poland about the role each played in World War II.

People around the world will be watching the speeches by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the memorial ceremony in Jerusalem, to see if Putin perseveres in the anti-Polish campaign he’s been pursuing in recent months, and whether Netanyahu will support him and further exacerbate tensions between Israel and Poland.

– Haaretz Weekly Ep. 57

Hijacking the Holocaust for Putin, politics and powerHaaretz Weekly Ep. 57

What is the conflict about?

As Russia marks the 75th anniversary of Auschwitz’s liberation by the Red Army, positioning itself as the one that heroically vanquished Nazi Germany, Poland has been sticking spokes into Putin’s wheels. Warsaw is accusing Moscow of being responsible for the outbreak of WWII and of committing war crimes against the Polish people during the war and afterwards. In turn, Putin claims that it was Poland that had played a role in the war’s outbreak, and has displayed forgotten archival documents to show it.

What does Russia want from Poland?

Russia is reminding Poland of unflattering chapters in its history that, according to Putin, indicate ideological and actual collaboration with Nazi Germany on the eve of WWII, and that the Polish government did not hesitate to cooperate with the Nazi regime when it served its purposes.

Russia argues that Poland played a role in the war’s outbreak because of its share in the aftermath of the Munich Agreement. Following the agreement in 1938, in which the West capitulated to Hitler and enabled him to divide Czechoslovakia, Poland gave the vanquished Czechoslovakia an ultimatum, demanding that it hand over part of Silesia. Prague gave in, and in coordination with Nazi Germany, the Polish army moved in and the region was annexed to Poland.