Poland works with Yad Vashem
to identify 'Righteous' Poles
The Institute of National Remembrance in Warsaw
(IPN) has had a general cooperation agreement with
the Yad Vashem in Jerusalem since 2004. Now, the
Israeli institute studying crimes of the Holocaust
has promised to officially assist it in gathering
archive documents about Poles who lost their life,
or suffered repression for helping Jews during the
Second World War.
A report by Slawek Szefs.
The latest visit by representatives
of the Polish institution to Jerusalem has set the
scene for official bilateral cooperation in scientific
research and the exchange of archive documents relating
to the period of World War Two. Mateusz Szpytna, one
of the members of the delegation, says cooperation
to date between IPN and Yad Vashem was based on archive
research conducted by individual historians studying
aspects of Polish-Jewish relations. The present agreement
opens an entirely new chapter in relations with Yad
Vashem, he says.
'We want this process to more
more institutionalised and better organised. We are
starting research on help extended to Jews by Poles
during World War Two. There will be two parallel programs.
The first one is to complete a register of Poles repressed
by the Nazis for their assistance to Jews. This is
where we are strongly counting on cooperation with
Yad Vashem. The second will aim at an inventory of
all places on Polish territory where wartime crimes
had been committed on Polish Jews and those brought
to suffer from other countries of occupied Europe.'
Professor Shevach Weiss from
the institute in Jerusalem and former Israeli ambassador
to Poland is convinced the cooperation with IPN already
is and will continue to be important and valuable,
bearing in mind the unique status and role of both
institutions in their respetive countries.
'We have some problems which
are the same problems. We have to do everything to
deal with the Righteous Among Nations. They were the
light during the dark period of WW2, especially in
Poland. In this area we have a very positive structure
strictly historical gains from the IPN-Yad Vashem cooperation,
can one of its effects be overcoming the many negative
stereotypes which have accumulated in Polish-Jewish
relations? Mateusz Szpytna from IPN is confident the
results will be visible.
'I'm sure that every visit
of IPN historians and Poles, generally, in Israel and
Israeli citizens to Poland contributes to eradicating
false images which find no reflection in reality. Every
personal contact with this reality makes the stereotypes
Professor Weiss adds the cooperation Yad Vashem has
been pursuing with the Institute of National Remembrance
extends beyond the subject of Nazi crimes during the
war. A sensitive issue is documented Polish participation
in some of these attrocities, like the mass murder
of Jews in Jedwabne in 1941. Professor Weiss considers
IPN efforts to unveil the truth about such acts of
genocide very important.
talked about Jedwabne after a very intensive, long
and systematic work of IPN, with professors Kieres
and Kulesza. It was one of the cases where cooperation
between Yad Vashem and IPN was very positive. Unfortuantely,
we have many things to do in the future. The Righteous
Among nations, the next generation and the third generation
after them and many other issues.'
Indeed the Righteous Among Nations are a special category
of people who helped save Jewish lives during the Holocaust.
In Nazi occupied Poland this was punishable by death,
yet Poles constitute by far the largest part of that
group of many nations.
Polish-Jewish relations are a rich area for study,
but they also contain many tragic elements with anti-Semitic
roots. Communist rule in Poland after the war had its
share in both tolerating and perpetrating crimes against
the country's Jewish inhabiatants. These problems have
been tackled by historian Jan Tomasz Gross. In his
latest book titled 'Fear', published in the US and
a Polish translation to be released shortly, he studies
the plight of those who survived the Holocaust only
to find death from irrational hatred at the hands of
their Polish neighbors after the war. An example is
the pogrom in Kielce in 1945. Professor Shevach Weiss
says this makes the events even more tragic.
our point of view, it was some kind of continuity of
the tragedy of the Second World War. Not done by the
Germans and Nazis, but by the Poles! It's not the same,
but it's a continuity of the same tragedy.'
The latest cooperation agreement between the Polish
Institute of National Remembrance and the Israeli Yad
Vashem will surely contribute to resolving some of
the grim mysteries governing the dark mechanisms of
racial hatred and oppression. It will also shed light
on the heroic acts of individuals who did not hesitate
to risk their lives to save others.