Poland’s forgotten civil strife and the struggle for Jewish statehoodBreaking News
tags: Israel, Poland
Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez are associate fellows of the Truman Institute, Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Their latest book is The Soviet-Israeli War, 1967-1973 (Hurst/Oxford, 2017).
During the inauguration of a memorial to the victims of the Siege of Leningrad in Jerusalem’s Sacher Park on January 24, 2020, before the climax of Holocaust remembrance events at which Russian President Vladimir Putin was given a central platform, we were stunned to hear a rendition of The Blue Kerchief (Siniy Platochek).
True, the song was an unofficial anthem of the Red Army in World War II. But its origin belies the version of history that Putin is promoting in his war of narratives against Poland. It also brought to mind an almost forgotten chapter in which the vagaries of war juxtaposed Israeli and Polish history.
After the event, Yad Vashem apologized for showing a video to world leaders at the Fifth World Holocaust Forum that neglected to mention the Soviet Union’s occupation of Polish territory in 1939, enabled by its non-aggression deal with Nazi Germany – the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact – while accusing Poland of responsibility for World War II.
Hostility and mistrust between Russia and Poland go back more than a thousand years, with Jews often caught in the crossfire.
Their fate in the Holocaust has become a focal point for the present clash. Both countries have passed laws criminalizing the “falsification of history” to their own detriment, but both engage in it when it can burnish their image. Israel made a mistake by leading the charge against Poland’s ban on so genuinely distorted a term as “Polish extermination camps” – we can’t recall any serious Israeli ever using it.
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