IN Jerusalem on Monday, world leaders will begin arriving to mark 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz. The large-scale event is part of a broader Fifth World Holocaust Forum dedicated both to remembrance and the renewed condemnation of antisemitism. It will be hosted by Yad Vashem (Israel’s official Holocaust memorial). Organisers say they don’t want the event to become an arena for ongoing historical fights, most especially the one underway between Poland and Russia. It already is, however, and the way the bout has been managed so far does not reflect well on Yad Vashem. More on that to come. Poland will host its own commemoration of the liberation on 27 January (International Holocaust Remembrance Day) but Vladimir Putin will not attend. Putin is enraged by Poland’s attribution to his country of joint responsibility for World War II owing to the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact and the secret protocols that led to the annexation of Polish territories 17 days after Germany’s invasion sparked the formal outbreak of hostilities. On Poland’s initiative, the European Parliament marked the anniversary of the Pact last year – to Russia’s disgust. Warsaw also believes Poland’s commemoration should take logical precedence, historically and prestige-wise, over Israel’s.
Not surprisingly, the fallout from these nasty contretemps has made planning the Jerusalem event complex. Already, officials have been forced to explain the decision to invite Andrzej Duda to attend but not to speak – as leaders of other WWII principals, including Putin, will. It is thought the Russian President intends to re-state a charge he made after the Pact commemoration in December – to the effect that Poland itself was partly responsible for the war thanks to the allegedly sinister dealings of Jozef Lipski, “an anti-Semitic swine” Putin called Poland’s war-time ambassador to Germany. President Duda refuses to be present, let alone silent, as such incendiary claims are repeated. Consequently, he will not attend the Israeli commemoration.
For its part, Yad Vashem refuses to be drawn into polemical warring between the two nations. However shameful his historical distortions and Pact denialism, nor will it reprimand Vladimir Putin under any circumstances. As the Jerusalem Post notes, the World Holocaust Forum is bankrolled by billionaire Russian-Jewish oligarch Moshe Kantor, a close friend and associate of the Russian President. While the decision to schedule as speakers only leaders of Allied nations and Germany seems neat on the face of it, millions of the Nazis’ victims were Poles and Poland is where – and why – the war began. President Duda has a right to be angry. As to whether it was prudent to draw attention to the 23-month partnership between Stalin and Hitler – 1939 to 1941 – opinions may vary but only one gels with what Yad Vashem is meant to be all about: remembering the ugly truth. There is no uglier one than that money talks. If Yad Vashem’s continued obsession with Pope Pius XII is anything to go by – I believe it is – there may be a back-story to Poland’s marginalisation: the nation is the most Catholic of proxies imaginable in the post-war world.
With frantic anti-Christian/anti-Western screeds appearing in the Israeli press in the run-up to the Holocaust anniversary – this one by Manfred Gerstenfeld makes reference to the “alleged son of God” when plain “Jesus” would obviously suffice – it may be time for Yad Vashem to take a longer look at itself. While the memorial’s official word on Pius XII bears the hallmarks of disinterested academic balance, the longstanding animosity to the war-time pontiff obviously perdures. “Roman Catholics might have been inspired to do more for Jews,” it asserts – ignoring the millions of Catholics who signed up to fight the Nazis and died doing so. The conflation of “the Vatican” with the Church and even with individual Catholics (who could have done “more”) is so jarringly inept intellectually that a suspicion arises that this is a prejudice too treasured to jettison. It seems Pope Pius has become the living embodiment of Christian history itself – with all of its lamentable anti-Jewish episodes – and cannot be paroled; culpability, once attributed, is salving and difficult to sacrifice. Nevertheless, criticising a leader with no army for supposedly not ‘speaking out’ (and getting thousands more killed) is morally dubious when contrasted with Yad Vashem’s effete aversion to offending Russia’s nuclear-armed tyrant. The only man to emerge from an affair Haaretz calls “dirty” is Andrzej Duda. Silenced but right.