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Majority Israelis believe Poles were also victims of the Nazis, survey shows

Auschwitz-Birkenau has become a symbol of Nazi Germany's genocide of European Jews, one million of whom were killed at the camp between 1940 to 1945
JANEK SKARZYNSKI (AFP)

Most Israelis recognize that the Polish people as well as the Jews suffered at the hands of the Nazis during the Holocaust, according to a new survey commissioned by the Polish embassy in Tel Aviv.

At the same time, one in two Israelis hold an “unfavorable” impression of Poland related to the recent controversy surrounding the Holocaust law and perceived levels of anti-Semitism in the country.

The poll published on Thursday, comes on the heels of last year's explosive row over a Polish law that made it illegal to accuse the Polish nation or state of complicity in Nazi German crimes. After months of a diplomatic spat and protests from Israel and the US, Warsaw amended the law to remove the possibility of fines or a prison sentence.

Concerned that the central European country’s image in Israel has been severely damaged by the dispute, Poland’s right-wing government has announced its intentions to rectify the matter. The survey is seemingly the first step.

“We commissioned this survey because we know very well that bilateral relations are very important for Poland and for Israel — more important than relations with other countries,” Ambassador Marek Magierowski‏‎ said, opening his remarks in Hebrew at a press conference.

“We wanted to know if we have to change something in our policy, here at Polish Embassy in Israel, and in the Polish government in Warsaw. We wanted to examine what the Israeli attitude is toward Poland,” Magierowski added.

A sizeable and surprising 72% percent of respondents said they agreed with the following statement: “During the Holocaust, Poles were also victims of Nazi oppression even though their suffering cannot be compared to the tragedy of the Jewish nation.”

Simultaneously 67% of the subjects believed that Poland has been “reluctant to fully accept responsibility for the role its citizens played during the Holocaust.”

JANEK SKARZYNSKI (AFP)

Speaking on Holocaust Memorial Day last week, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki reiterated that Hitler’s Germany was responsible for the Holocaust not the Nazis.

"Hitler's Germany fed on fascist ideology... But all the evil came from this (German) state and we cannot forget that, because otherwise we relativise evil," Morawiecki said marking 74 years since the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp.

Nazi Germany established the main hubs of their extermination machine on Polish territory, including the largest concentration camp, Auschwitz, and the three primary extermination camps: Treblinka, Sobibor, Belzec and Chelmno.

Magierowski‏‎ said he was not surprised by the poll’s findings that 49% of Israelis held negative views towards Poland, adding that in Israel there was “low awareness of what modern-day Poland is.”

Once presented with the positive information about Poland such as the low-level of anti-Semitic incidents in the country; the absence of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement; and the government’s condemnation of Hamas rocket fire, the survey revealed that when respondents were asked again about their view on Poland 76% expressed favorability.

“We’d like you to get to know the modern Poland, including Polish cuisine and jazz. When Israels return from a first-time visit to Poland, they say that they had expected to see a sad country, a post-Communist one, but had discovered a Western country,” he said.

Amid the inescapable historical links, the survey also found that a majority of Israelis (65%) think bilateral relations should emphasize “the present and the future, including trade relations and support for Israel.”

“We’ll always be talking about history,” the Polish ambassador continued referring to the “900-plus years of common history of Jews living in Poland” but “this is not the only topic we should talk about.”

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