The Polish government can claim a huge victory in the fight over the country’s honor as well as its campaign to rewrite history and erase the stains of Poland’s past.
President Donald Trump, the leader of the free world, adopted the Polish narrative of victimhood and its unilateral pretension of innocence in its entirety, granting the Polish right-wing conservative-nationalist government the seal of approval that it so badly needed.
Trump’s Poland is a nation of fighters for freedom and justice who fell victim to the dictatorial conquests that ruined the land – but which survived thanks to its devotion to the values of liberty and its love of life. In Trump’s Poland, there is no trace of the Poles who persecuted, betrayed and murdered thousands of Jews in all over the country, before, during and after the Nazi occupation. No trace remains of the deep-rooted anti-Semitism and venomous hatred of Jews, which they suffered throughout the period of Jewish-Polish existence even before the Nazis destroyed it.
In his speech in Warsaw, Trump mentioned Polish suffering and the Polish victims of the nation’s bloody history but conveniently avoided the unpleasant stories of the Jewish victims of those same Polish victims. For instance, he noted the Katyn Forest massacre, where the Soviets murdered tens of thousands of Poles in 1940, but forgot to mention the massacre in Jedwabne (1941) and the pogrom in Kielce (1946), when Poles murdered their Jewish neighbors under the Nazi and Soviet occupations, respectively.
Trump didn’t bother to refer them in a single word – and rightly so, from his point of view. That wouldn’t have been in line with his signature flattering and obsequious speeches, like the one he gave in Warsaw, in order to please his hosts.
In Trump’s Poland, the Poles were and remain the ultimate victims – of the Nazis and the Russians. But there is no mention of the Polish Jews, who were often forced to hide not only from the Nazis but from their Polish neighbors as well. It is therefore not surprising that Trump chose to deliver his main speech at the Warsaw Uprising Monument, which marks the 1944 Polish uprising that ended with the murder of 200,000 Poles by the Germans and the destruction of Warsaw, but skipped a visit to the famous monument to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the 1943 Jewish revolt which the Polish underground failed to join.
The fact that he chose to skip a visit to the monument (although his daughter Ivanka did visit it) – despite it being barely a mile away from the monument where he spoke – infuriated the local Jewish community. In a protest declaration, they wrote that Trump is the first U.S. president since the fall of communism in 1989 who neglected to visit it. As far as they’re concerned, it’s as though Trump decided to skip a visit to Yad Vashem during his visit to Israel.
Trump mentioned the main reason for the destruction of Polish Jewry (because “the Nazis systematically murdered millions of Poland’s Jewish citizens, along with countless others, during that brutal occupation”), but refrained from mentioning the secondary reason for that destruction: Those who helped the Nazis do the job, even if they themselves were suffering at their hands.
Trump noted that Poland suffered from various occupations throughout its history, primarily by the Nazi and the Soviets, but he added two sentences that are liable to discomfit quite a number of Jews whose relatives experienced the violence of Polish anti-Semites: “In those dark days, you have lost your land but you never lost your pride Poland is a land of great heroes.”
The last two statements, referring to “Polish pride” and “great heroes,” are very true when it comes to the thousands of Polish Righteous of the Nations, who risked their lives and saved Jews in the Holocaust, like the Ulma family from the town of Markowa, all of whom, including their six children, were murdered along with Jews they were hiding from the Nazis in their house.
But these statements are not at all true when it comes to thousands of other Poles, whose behavior towards their Jewish neighbors during World War II was the exact opposite of “great heroism.”