A declassified US State Department report from 1946 documented the abhorrent treatment of Poland’s Jews before, during and after World War II. The report equated Polish and Nazi treatment of the Jewish population and said many Jews preferred to flee, even to Germany, after the war.
The document, titled “The Jews in Poland Since the Liberation,” was obtained by the Simon Wiesenthal Center and shown exclusively to The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday, the same day a Polish governmental delegation arrived in Israel to discuss Warsaw’s contentious “Holocaust law,” which has caused a diplomatic crisis between the two countries.
“There is little doubt that the current anti-Jewish manifestations in Poland represent a continuation of activities by rightwing groups that were at work before 1939, when even major political parties had antisemitic programs,” the report said. “In other words, there is not much that is essentially new or different in the current antisemitic agitation.
However, the antisemitic overtones in prewar Polish politics predisposed many Poles to the acceptance of Nazi racial theories, and there is evidence that Poles persecuted the Jews as vigorously as did the Germans during the occupation. The retreating Nazis, moreover, left in their wake a heavy residue of their racial theories.
Even before the liberation of Poland, antisemitic propaganda emerged in Polish émigré circles.”
The Intelligence Research report, dated May 15, 1946, was distributed by the US Office of Intelligence Coordination and Liaison as a restricted document.
It was declassified in 1983.
It describes how antisemitism “reached such dimensions in the Polish Army under General Wladyslaw Anders that many Jewish soldiers felt compelled to desert those forces and seek enlistment with other Allied armies.”
By mid-1944, it said, widespread antisemitism was reported in Lublin and other parts of Poland. By April 1945, “more reports were current and a dozen Polish towns were named as places where Jews had been killed, allegedly by members of the Polish Home Guard (Armia Krajowa), the armed force formed by and loyal to the Government-in-Exile.”
Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Wiesenthal Center, said the documents directly contradict current arguments by Polish leaders that antisemitism was the result of communism.
He pointed to a part of the report that discussed rampant antisemitism and treatment of Jews as second-class citizens long before the communists took power in Poland and indeed, well before the war, with religious leaders, political parties and both high and low-level officials preaching and practicing antisemitism.
“In the jockeying for political preference in Poland after 1919, most of the major political parties – with the exception of leftist groups – followed an antisemitic line,” the report reads. “Catholic Church leaders, from Cardinal Hlond down, preached antisemitism and favored an economic boycott of the Jews.
Polish nationalists sought to win peasant and working-class support by attributing many of Poland’s internal difficulties to the Jews.” Lawless elements attacked Jews, adding physical peril to the already discouraging social and economic conditions.”
A widespread Polish argument in the current disagreement with Israel over Holocaust history acknowledges that some Poles may have acted badly during WWII, but denies that antisemitism was prevalent in Polish society. “This is absolutely not true,” Hier stressed. Some members of the Polish government have said only Israel holds this view of Poland’s history, he noted, but the impartial report written by the US government soon after WWII “absolutely tells a different story and one that would be very difficult for the president of Poland to deny.”
The report also referred to the post-war era, when some Jews opted to move to Germany rather than remain in Poland.
“So violent have been the antisemitic incidents reported – and so widespread is the fear for their lives among the handful of Jewish survivors – that some Polish Jews have been reported seeking to escape to the American Zone in Germany rather than remain in Poland,” the report said.
“Others, who have gone back to Poland, are reported to be returning to Western Germany after only a short stay.
Polish Jews in displaced persons centers in Germany have, moreover, almost unanimously declined to return to their former homeland,” the document said.
Hier said, “It’s very important that this report be made public so that people all over the world can read what a 1946 assessment of the issue of how Polish Jews were treated in Poland.”
Copies of the report are currently being held at the Wiener Library for the Study of the Holocaust and Genocide in London and in the US National Archives in Washington.
While the report is accessible, it has remained widely unknown until now.
The Wiesenthal Center obtained the document in the course of research while publishing books about the Holocaust.
Hier said he believes widespread knowledge of the report can provide insight into why Jews are upset by the new law. He emphasized that his organization is not an enemy of Poland, but a group that brings hundreds of visitors to the country. “They have to acknowledge that antisemitism in Poland was a problem of longevity. You just have to read this report, which was not written by Jews, to see how real antisemitism was in Poland,” he said.