A major Jewish family foundation has retracted a video it posted online Tuesday calling on the United States to sever diplomatic ties with Poland over its new Holocaust memory law, amid condemnation from both American Jewish leaders and the Polish government.
The video accused Poland of perpetrating a “Polish Holocaust,” exacerbating the already heated tensions between Polish and Jewish communal officials and raising fears of retaliation among Polish Jews. The Ruderman Family Foundation, which created the video, pulled it from YouTube 24 hours after posting it. The foundation’s president, Jay Ruderman, said that he had chosen to pull the video following requests from Jews in Poland.
“We got a few calls from the Polish Jewish community in Krakow who said that the video was big news in Poland and they were concerned for their safety,” Ruderman said in an interview. But Ruderman stood by his decision to create the video in the first place, saying he had meant to create controversy.
Before the video was deleted, the American Jewish Committee, a major Jewish global affairs advocacy group, criticized it in a rare attack on a fellow American Jewish organization, saying it would “only serve to pour oil on a dangerous fire.” The group’s CEO, David Harris, said in a statement that the video was “deeply troubling and misguided.”
Editor’s note: The Forward captured the video before it was taken off line. The video clearly was produced with actors and not identifiable Jews in Poland, and is published here as a public service, so that our readers can understand the nature of this controversy.
The new Polish law regarding the Holocaust has been major news in both America and Israel, where government officials have engaged in a war of words with Polish authorities. The law in effect bans phrases such as “Polish death camps” and, more troublingly, makes it illegal to accuse Poland of complicity in Nazi crimes. A number of American Jewish groups have condemned the law, including the AJC, the Anti-Defamation League, and the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
None of those groups called on the United States to sever diplomatic ties with Poland, a member of the European Union and NATO. That call came from the Massachusetts-based Ruderman Family Foundation, a private charity known for disability rights advocacy funded by the heirs of a health care technology magnate. The foundation is run by the magnate’s son, Jay Ruderman.
In a highly-produced video that raked in thousands of views before being deleted, Israeli-accented men, women and children said that they would be “locked up” for saying the phrase “Polish Holocaust,” before asking viewers to sign a petition calling on the U.S. to “suspend relations with Poland now.” The video referred to a website with a one-sentence petition in English and Hebrew that reads: “In the name of 6 million Jews, The United States must suspend relations with Poland now!”
The video’s implication that Poland perpetrated a Holocaust against Jews is not a position shared by historians. Critics of Poland’s law acknowledge that the death camps in Poland were operated by the Nazis, and that the phrase “Polish death camps” is inaccurate. They contend not that there was a “Polish Holocaust,” but that some Polish people were complicit in Nazi crimes, and that Poles participated in pogroms against the Polish Jewish community.
Ruderman said that his video was meant to be controversial. “The point we were trying to make in a very forward manner was Poles had a role in the Holocaust,” he said. “I’m not saying they created the Holocaust. But they were part of the Holocaust.”
Ruderman bristled at the critique of his video leveled by the AJC’s Harris. “There were hundreds of thousands of Jews killed by Poles. What does David Harris have to say about that? Does he want to dismiss that?” Ruderman said. “Is he working behind the scenes with the Polish government to make everything better?”
Harris has been a consistent critic of the Polish law, issuing three statements against it in February alone. But Ruderman said that his video was evidence of the superiority of family foundations like his, which answer only to a small board, usually controlled by family members. Family foundations, he said, “are able to do things that are out of the box.”
Meanwhile, in Poland, Ruderman’s video appears to have made life difficult for the Polish Jewish community. Ruderman said that he had received phone calls from Krakow’s Jews saying it had created a security risk. “I didn’t want to be responsible for any Jew coming to harm,” he said, explaining his decision to take the video off line.
The Warsaw Jewish Community and the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland issued a statement Wednesday condemning the video’s use of the phrase “Polish Holocaust” and saying that while they opposed the Polish law, they wanted YouTube and Facebook to pull the video “as it misleads the international community.”
In a separate statement, the Polish ambassador to the United States, Piotr Wilczek, said that the video was a “malicious attempt to heighten emotions during a sensitive time.”
Ruderman said that he had thought that the issue of the Polish law had not received as much attention in the United States as it had in Israel, and he wanted to raise awareness among American Jews. “I didn’t see the outrage in the United States among the American Jewish community that I saw in Israel,” he said. “Our whole message in terms of this issue is that American Jews and Israelis are together as one Jewish people and that American Jews matter to Israel. I’m not sure Israelis felt that over the past few months.”
Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.