Before any more time went by I wanted to flag your attention to something that happened in New York City on Sunday. There was a rally of “Polish nationalists” protesting a bill aimed at the recovery of property confiscated from victims during the Holocaust. I put “Polish nationalists” in quotes here because I don’t want to equate Polish nationalism with the most unreconstructed forms of virulent anti-Semitism and Holocaust-denial which were on display at the event — placards with anti-Semitic attacks, various kinds of Holocaust denial, one demonstrator taunting a group of Jewish counter-protestors by waving a dollar bill in their faces, claims that Jews who died in the Warsaw Ghetto were mainly killed by other Jews, etc., etc., etc.
The event got almost no publicity in advance, seemingly in large part because it was mainly discussed and publicized in the Polish language émigré press and in Polish on social media. There’s been almost no news coverage since it occurred. One exception is this write-up in Newsweek. There’s also this write up with some video from The Forward.
Other than that though there’s been almost no coverage of the event in the US media.
The only reason I know about it is that my friend, the artist and author Molly Crabapple, was there observing and counter-protesting and live-tweeted it as it unfolded. Here’s the first tweet in her thread, which I strongly encourage you to read. (Clicking the tweet will take you to Twitter and you can read the entire thread in chronological order.)
There was a Polish nationalist demostration in Foley Square today that denied any Polish complicity with the Holocaust.
One demonstrator waved a dollar bill to taunt Jewish counterprotesters
— Molly Crabapple (@mollycrabapple) March 31, 2019
Here’s another thread from another observer, counter-protestor.
I've retweeted a few things (I was in NYC for other reasons so I went to the counterprotest of this trash) but yeah just read the whole thread to get the idea. CN antisemitism & Holocaust denial. https://t.co/U6YzGI52Bt
— Lirael Lowenstein 🔥 (@lirael_abhorsen) March 31, 2019
The only counter-protest presence was organized by a group called Outlive Them New York, which calls itself “part of an international network of antifascist Jews and allies.”
The history of the Holocaust in Poland is complicated. Poland spent almost the entirety of the Second World War in Europe under German Nazi occupation and suffered grievously. There were also many Poles who courageously worked to save Jews. Yad Vashem lists 6,863 Poles who are among the “righteous” who worked to save Jews during the Nazi Holocaust. Poles also have a good point when they push back against calling a camp like Auschwitz a “Polish concentration camp” as opposed to one run by Germany on occupied Polish soil. But it is also true — and fixed into the intergenerational memories of many Jews — that there was profound complicity on the part of the Polish population in the extermination of Polish Jewry. Indeed, I believe Poland is the only country in Europe which had pogroms after the country was liberated from the Nazis.
The specifics of the history aren’t really the point of this post, though it’s one that the current Polish government is now moving increasingly toward denying. But I don’t think it’s any accident that this happened in today’s climate — both what is happening today in Poland, where discussion of Polish complicity in the genocide is now illegal, and what’s happening in the US, where anti-Semitism is on the rise and coddled by those in power.
The rally organizers say there were 300 people in attendance. Others put the number maybe closer to 200. But this was a large turnout. From observers I spoke to it seemed mainly to be older Polish-American immigrants, along with their second generation children and grandchildren.
Here’s one of many responses to Molly’s Twitter thread, complaining “where were the Jews” to help rebuild Poland after the war? Over 90% of Polish Jewry were murdered during the Holocaust. They weren’t available.
…. and this is now what my mentions are like. Logging off of twitter for a bit because my god pic.twitter.com/ObCQev7FuJ
— Molly Crabapple (@mollycrabapple) April 1, 2019
This happened. In broad daylight. In New York City in 2019.
Photos courtesy of Molly Crabapple.