The missing Poles

Anne Karpf in Comment is Free blasts the Kaczynski twins who run Poland for their suggestion that Poland should have extra votes at EU summits because of their war dead. The twins argue that if Germany had not killed six million Poles (including three million Jews) Poland’s population would be around 60 million instead of the current 39 million or so.

Let’s put that aside for the moment, and examine Anne’s arguments. Basically they seem to boil down to: lots of Poles were or are anti-Semitic, the Polish government has anti-Semites and homophobes in it, so they should just **** off. Or, as Anne writes:

“Half of them [the six million dead Poles] were Jews – and the Polish record on Jews is just a mite troublesome. Those Polish Jews weren’t exactly living in clover before the war, when the “numerus clausus” (Jewish quota) restricted their access to the professions. And when they were carted off to the camps, most of their Polish neighbours were at best indifferent, and at worst grateful to the Germans for ridding them of this pestilential presence.

“Polish nationalism had long been nourished by anti-semitism. Although the relations between Poles and Jews are more complex than often crudely characterised, and there were many Poles who exposed themselves to enormous risk by hiding Jews, my own mother’s experience – denounced to the Nazis by a Polish Catholic – was common, perhaps even typical.”

I understand Anne’s anger, especially about her mother’s terrible experience. But it’s also interesting quite how many Poles “exposed themselves to enormous risk by hiding Jews”. The Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem keeps statistics on the ‘Righteous Among the Nations’, that is non-Jews who risked their lives during the Second World War to save Jews.

Number one in the saviour’s table is, you guessed it, Poland, with 6004 rescuers. There is an argument of course that the Polish figure will be statistically higher because Poland once had Europe’s largest Jewish population. Divide the number of Jews by the number of rescuers and you get the figure of one rescuer for every 500 Jews.

Still pretty dismal, of course, but better than many other countries. Hungary had a pre-1945 Jewish population of around 800,000 Jews (including Transylvania after 1941). There are 685 Hungarian rescuers, which makes for one rescuer for every 1167 Jews. Compare that to neighbouring Romania, with 53 rescuers for 800,000 Jews, which makes one rescuer for every 15,100 Jews. Pluckly little Albania does very well – 63 rescuers for a Jewish population of several hundred, almost all of whom were hidden away and survived. Russia has just 41.

So while I understand Anne’s emotional response to the twins, I don’t I agree with it.