For me, the phrase means Polish only in a geographical sense. I thought (correctly) that each of the concentration camps were run by Germans.
Now, however, the State of Israel embodied in the perennial Prime Minister, and even someone sensible like Lapid, claim that the term “Polish death camps” is accurate.
“”In May 2012, U.S. President Barack Obama referred to “a Polish death camp” while posthumously awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Jan Karski. After complaints from Poles, including Polish Foreign Minister, a representative of the Obama administration said the President misspoke and “was referring to Nazi death camps in German-occupied Poland.”“
This gaffe inspired the Polish law in question.
From the Washington Post article in today’s news.
” Villagers in Jedwabne, for example, reportedly locked about 300 Jewish residents in a barn and burned them alive in 1941, the BBC wrote. Some modern-day Poles deny the story or blame Germans for pressuring the villagers, but others see evidence of willing complicity throughout the occupation.
Jan Karski, a famed Polish resistance fighter, once told an interviewer of the “ruthless, often without pity” attitude some of his countrymen held for Poland’s large Jewish population.
The director of the Israel Council on Foreign Relations, Laurence Weinbaum, once wrote: Those who see themselves as defenders of Poland’s good name are often quick to point out that in Poland there was no Quisling regime comparable to that which existed in other countries occupied by Germany — and that the Polish underground fought the Germans tooth and nail,” Weinbaum wrote. “The truth is that local authorities were often left intact in occupied Poland, and many officials exploited their power in ways that proved fatal to their Jewish constituents.”
Burning 300 of your fellow villagers alive in a barn is ruthless and pitiless indeed, but the question is about the Holocaust and complicity in the extermination at the camps specifically.
Yair Lapid tweeted.
I utterly condemn the new Polish law which tries to deny Polish complicity in the Holocaust. It was conceived in Germany but hundreds of thousands of Jews were murdered without ever meeting a German soldier. There were Polish death camps and no law can ever change that.
My question is, were the “Polish” death camps, staffed by Nazi Germany SS (every one of them, as a Wikipedia search for Sobibor, Auschwitz, Treblinka, Majdanek, Belzec, and Chelmno reveals) — also staffed by Poles? Yes, there were Jews killed gleefully by pitchfork in Poland, Romania, etc. before and after the Nazis. The puppet regime, like in France, was an instrument in rounding up Jews to be delivered to a fate which everybody knew, but rationalized to themselves, that it could not be, or somehow their hands remained free of blood.
But my question is, speaking to Lapid’s tweet, were there “hundreds of thousands of Jews” exterminated in “Polish death camps” “without ever meeting a German soldier”? To the effect that the idea was “conceived” by Germany, but implemented by Poland?
And from the Wikipedia again,
Historians generally agree that there was little collaboration with the Nazis by individual Poles in comparison with other German-occupied countries. … A large part of the former territory of the Second Polish Republic was annexed by the Third Reich, while the remainder comprised the region known as the General Government, all of which was administered by Germany. The General Government had no international recognition of any kind. The territories administered by the Nazis were never in whole or in part intended as a Polish state within a German-dominated Europe either. Ethnic Poles were not allowed to become Reich citizens.
Polish citizens have the world’s highest count of individuals who have been recognized as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem as non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews from extermination during the Holocaust. “”
— Furthermore, the term “Polish death camp” was originally a form of Holocaust denial.
“The West German intelligence formed Agency 114 (German: Dienststelle 114); headed by Alfred Benzinger (a Nazi Abwehrpolizei), who in 1956 launched a coordinated action to move the blame away from the war criminals under various investigations. According to an opinion of Polish historian Leszek Pietrzak , Benzinger adopted the deliberately ambiguous, loaded phrase”Polish death camps” in the mid 1960s in order to suggest, contrarily to the facts, that Poles, not Germans, were responsible for the mass genocide during World War II.
… Opponents of the use of these terms argue that they are inaccurate, as they may imply that the camps—located in Nazi-occupied Poland—might have been a responsibility of the Poles (i.e., Polish), when in fact they were designed, constructed and run by Nazi Germany and used to exterminate Poles alongside Polish Jews, as well as Jews transported by the Nazis from across Europe.
The American Jewish Committee has also rejected the usage, stating that:
Auschwitz-Birkenau and the other death camps, including Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Sobibor and Treblinka, were conceived, built and operated by Nazi Germany and its allies. The camps were located in German-occupied Poland, the European country with by far the largest Jewish population, but they were most emphatically not “Polish camps”. This is not a mere semantic matter. Historical integrity and accuracy hang in the balance.
The government of Israel has also deprecated the usage of this phrase.
Concerns about the use of the term Polish death camp led the Polish government to request that UNESCO change the official name of Auschwitz. On 28 June 2007 at its meeting in Christchurch, New Zealand, the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO changed the name of the camp to “Auschwitz Birkenau. German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp (1940–1945).” Previously, some media, including Der Spiegel in Germany, had called the camp “Polish”. The New York Times regularly refers to Auschwitz as Polish rather than German.
So while most Poles were probably anti-semitic and a few complicit with Hitler’s occupation, I don’t see a legitimate reason to associate the liquidation of people at Nazi death camps with the Polish nation, historically.
Yair Lapid and Bibi seem to be wrong about this. In fact, the term is one heralded by Holocaust disambiguators — aka deniers.