The following was a news item via FoxNews that recounted formal protests made by the government of Poland directed at visiting American dignitary James Comey, the director of the FBI, for comments he made alleging Polish complicity in the Holocaust.
FBI Director James Comey wasn't wrong when he said some in Poland were accomplices in the Holocaust, but his remarks -- which angered Poles and resulted in an apology Sunday night from America's top diplomat in Warsaw -- hit a raw nerve in a nation that suffered greatly at the hands of the Nazis, according to experts on the last century's darkest chapter.
U.S. Ambassador Stephen Mull apologized for Comey's comments, in which the lawman told an audience at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, "In their minds, the murderers and accomplices of Germany, and Poland, and Hungary, and so many, many other places didn't do something evil. They convinced themselves it was the right thing to do, the thing they had to do." Mull, who was summoned to meet with Polish officials, emerged from the sit-down and made it clear Comey did not speak for the U.S.
"I now have a lot of work before me to make things right in this situation."
- Stephen Mull, US ambassador to Poland
" ... any suggestion that "Poland, or any other countries other than Nazi Germany, bear responsibility for the Holocaust, is a mistake, harmful and insulting," Mull said after attending ceremonies marking the 72nd anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising against the Nazis. "Nazi Germany alone bears responsibility.
"I now have a lot of work before me to make things right in this situation," he said.
COmey's speech made US Ambassador Stephen Mull's job harder. (Reuters)
Polish officials noted that 6 million Poles -- half of them Jews -- died at the hands of Nazis. Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a global human rights organization researching the Holocaust, said he could understand the Poles' umbrage at Comey's remarks, even if they contained truth.
"Poland, the government and the Polish people, have often been upset when people say, in shorthand, 'Polish death camps, or 'Polish concentration camp,'" Cooper said. "What is very important to note is these camps were in occupied Poland. Many Poles took up arms against the Nazis, in the Warsaw uprising and before."
Cooper said the history of Jews in Poland, both before and during the Holocaust, is complicated.
"There are two interesting truths," Cooper said. "The largest number of righteous gentiles honored by Yad Vashem [Israel's Holocaust memorial] came from Poland. Having said that, it is also true that the level of anti-Semitism in Poland on the eve of the war was also extremely high."
The FBI did not return calls for comment.
Comey might not have been wrong in the literal sense, but his comments were "inartful," said Deborah Lipstadt, professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Emory University and author of the landmark 1993 book, "Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory."
"His heart was in the right place, but it was a very clumsy way of saying things," Lipstadt said. "Poland did not have its own government that it could be an ally or collaborator of Germany. If I were an advisor to Comey, I would have told him not to use Poland as an example.
"There were many people in Poland who certainly turned Jews in, and Poland was an anti-Semitic regime prior to the war. However, during the war Poland was an occupied country, unlike Hungary and France and others whose governments actively collaborated with the Nazis.”
FBI Director James Comey said he sends every new agent to the Holocaust museum. (Reuters)
President Obama caused similar outrage in 2012 when he referred to a Nazi facility in occupied Poland where Jews were processed for extermination as a "Polish death camp." Obama subsequently apologized.
Nazi Germany brutally occupied Poland from 1939-45, and ran death camps there, killing millions of Jews, Poles and others.
The Associated Press contributed to this report
Director Comey’s only fault here is that he failed to adhere to diplomatic protocol in commenting on a subject that carried a particularly strong sensitivity with his intended audience. But his heart probably was in the right place by pointing out that not all of the Holocaust perpetrators came replete with Nazi insignia on their lapels. The sad fact of the matter was that the Nazi program to exterminate the Jews of Europe was never short of a reliable number of in-house, anti-Semitic, indigenous groups that regularly collaborated with their German masters to ramp up the violence against their Jewish victims.
Comey should not be faulted for pointing out that not all of the people in Nazi-occupied Europe, especially Eastern Europe were averse to the occupier’s anti-Semitic policies. In this regard Comey could be perfunctorily commended for at least having a more realistic grasp of WWII history than America’s Polish Ambassador Stephen Mull, who seems more concerned with appeasing his Polish guests’ insistence that their country’s wartime record roughly mirrored the plight which had befell the Jews of Europe.
For the record, Poland’s plight in WWII was one of horrendous tragedy and misfortune, for the Poles’ suffered an equally egregious fate at the hands of both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. No other civilian population in Europe suffered more than the Poles during WWII. They were the victims of the Nazis’ abominable General Plan East policy which resigned the Polish population to a slow and methodical diminution through segregation, enslavement and organized mass murder. As if that wasn’t bad enough, many of the leading mavens in Polish society, especially those in the prewar Polish Army’s ill-fated officer corps were subsequently deported and murdered in Stalin’s Siberian gulags to ensure a more compliant transition to communist rule after the Red Army had liberated the country from Nazism.
I hardly doubt that Director Comey was deliberately mitigating the extent of the Poles’ suffering but was merely postulating that not all Poles were inflicted with remorse over the plight which had befallen their Jewish brethren. Although the article clearly states the Poles’ generous provision of heroic contributors to the Yad Vashem memorial register of ‘Righteous Among the Nation’ for their gallant exploits to diminish the effects of the Jew’s suffering, there is also a small percentage of the Polish population that wasn’t so accommodating to the Jew’s plight for which the Poles’ themselves are not always so eager or proud to speak about. Comey’s only mistake here is that his poor wording somehow insinuated that the Poles perhaps were the worst offenders of the indigenous groups that ignored the Jewish persecution.
The worse offender here is probably Ambassador Mull for his confident insistence that Nazi Germany alone bears the responsibility for the Holocaust. Of course the Nazi regime deserves full blame for enacting and carrying out the genocidal policy that launched the Holocaust but the sad truth is that not all of the Holocaust’s perpetrators were Nazis. For this Ambassador Mull is probably equally guilty of having chosen a poor use of words to establish historical fact from fiction or perhaps he is just being more intentional in presenting history with a more political slant. In his case he has a diplomatic incentive to ameliorate the historical record of his host country by portraying all the Polish people as the unwitting victims of Nazi brutality. But not all Poles lamented the plight of their Jewish neighbors just as not all Germans were card-carrying members of the Nazi Party.
The sad truth is that the Nazi SS, the chief perpetrators of the Holocaust, had quite an easy time in filling the rolls of their execution squads from a steady stream of native volunteers from all the occupied nations of Europe. Anti-Semitism was not a distinctly German anomaly in European society and the indigenous groups in Eastern Europe were especially plagued with an abundance of social and political extremist groups that operated on the far fringes of the political spectrum. The members in these groups were only too willing to offer their services to their new political masters for reasons that didn’t always correlate with simple economic motives. And Eastern Europe was full of eager Nazi collaborators who wholeheartedly took up the cause of genocide if it meant ridding their nation of their Jewish minorities.
Comey’s main fault was that his erroneous wording of the argument seems to have singled out the Poles for being the most indifferent when in fact there were probably five or six other nationalities whose collaboration with the Nazis’ could be judged far more vigorous and munificent. However, maybe Ambassador Mull should be asking himself why 20 of the last 25 Nazi war criminals to be brought to justice were not diehard German Nazis’ but rather zealous concentration camp guards hailing from Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania and Croatia. It might also be relevant to point out that not a whole lot of the people in these countries seem to have raised even an eyebrow when the Nazi einsatzgruppen began culling the number of Jews from their towns and villages and executing them in mass burial pits on the outskirts of town.
The bottom line is that Ambassador Mull does history no justice by portraying the Holocaust as a distinctly German injustice when huge swaths of European society chose to look away rather than raise any alarm bells in deference to the Jew’s plight. Then he can ask himself why a majority of the guards at the Nazi-run labor camps and execution centers were Ukrainian “Trawniki” volunteers or Russian “Hiwis” and that most of the firing squads that made up the einsatzgruppen were Latvian and Lithuanian conscripts recruited from the many far-right, anti-Semitic, social groups that abruptly rose up in those societies at the entrance of their Nazi masters. These volunteers were not ignorant of the heinous crimes they were tasked in performing and many of them saw their obligations to the Nazis’ as an opportune way to curry favor with their masters by readily absolving the hard-pressed German war machine of the more mundane tasks associated with the Jewish genocide.
By no means was this collaboration relegated to the anti-Semitic groups in Eastern Europe only. The Vichy French regime had an equally abhorrent attitude toward their Jewish constituents that swiftly filtered down into all sectors of French society. The one common bond that factored into all these examples of Nazi collaboration was the seemingly indifference that all these countries had for their Jewish kinsfolk. To say that anti-Semitism was not already widely pervasive all across European society is perhaps the best illustration of history being rewritten by the victors since it accentuates the cause for which the whole war was fought against the Axis powers. And had all of Europe been genuinely averse to the Nazis’ macabre racial pursuits than there wouldn’t be so many fugitive accomplices still hiding away among the populations that are said to have resisted the Nazi’s the most vehemently.
The Polish people have a right to protest the comments made by Director Comey but they can’t continue to ignore or downplay the abominable collaborationist record of a good-size section of their community for the virulent anti-Semitic transgressions they committed, not in collaboration with the Nazis’ but more so against their own countrymen simply because they were not Polish. Yes it is true that some 6,339 Polish citizens were duly commemorated by the state of Israel for their selfless assistance to the Jews during the Holocaust but it is probably fair to assume that an equal number of Poles were also extoled by the Nazis’ for having denounced their Jewish neighbors. The Poles can talk all they want about their historical bonds with the Jewish people before 1939 but those same praises ring hollow with the postwar record of Jewish emigration leaving the Polish state in droves because of their most unwelcome status.
Perhaps Director Comey should just concern himself with criminal justice and maybe Ambassador Mull won’t have to spend so much time tending to Polish sensitivities. Then again, isn’t that what ambassadors do fulltime anyways? What he shouldn’t be doing is attempting to rewrite the historical record by overly simplifying the greatest criminal conspiracy in history by relegating its cause to a few bad apples in Berlin. The chief perpetrators may have hailed from the Greater German Reich but many of the Holocaust’s greatest injustices were augmented by the behavior of ordinary civilians in Warsaw, Minsk, Kiev, Kaunas, Vilnius or Riga who readily threw their lot behind their Nazi oppressors in order to certify their own inherent prejudices against their hapless Jewish rivals. Sadly this is something that all of Europe hasn’t quite come to terms with nor does it seem to have the scruples to openly admit or accept. Ultimately everyone in the end is held accountable for their darkest indiscretions, if not by God than by the spirits of all the victims they so blindly ignored.