Nowhere in Comey’s speech did he blame Poland for the Holocaust. He simply mentioned “accomplices,” of which Poland had its share. This doesn’t negate the fact that no European nation suffered as much under Nazi rule as did Poland — and no nation had as effective an underground movement. Many Poles risked, and sometimes lost, their lives trying to save Jews. Poles were often splendid. Most just tried to survive.
But even before the 1939 conquest by Germany, Poland had evolved into an anti-Semitic state. In her book “On the Edge of Destruction,” Celia S. Heller wrote that the Jews of Poland “came to represent a conquered population.” They were legally discriminated against. Quotas for Jews were established in colleges and universities. Jewish students were forced to sit in certain areas, the so-called ghetto benches. If they resisted, they were beaten by their fellow students, sometimes by the faculty as well. Jewish merchants, who already closed on Saturday, were forced to close Sunday as well and were required to post their names, often recognizably Jewish, on their storefronts.
What amounts to the Polish version of Jim Crow laws hardly rises to the level of mass murder. But it was its predicate, and scholars such as Princeton’s Jan Gross in his “Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland,” did find that Poles murdered Jews on their own — as the Germans looked on. If not every Pole was an anti-Semite, then not every Pole had clean hands, either. Even after the war, pogroms erupted in Poland...And even today, Jew-hatred there is flourishing.
Update: Jonathan S. Tobin says that
the main lesson we should draw from this brouhaha is that by engaging in arguments that seek to whitewash some of those who behaved atrociously during the 1940s, we are distracting ourselves from the real threats facing Jews, Poles, and Europeans in 2015.
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