London mayor Sadiq Khan stepped into the controversy over claims of Polish Holocaust revisionism this week, revealing a £300,000 City Hall donation to Auschwitz was motivated in part to address the “rewriting of history”
Khan, who attended the Auschwitz 75 commemorations on Monday, told Jewish News he was anxious about the way in which the Polish government was speaking about its role in relation to the Nazi genocide.
He said he was unhappy about Polish president Andrzej Duda’s decision to block the reappointment of Dariusz Stola, the former director of the Polin museum of the history of Polish Jews in Warsaw.
Khan added the intention behind the London donation was to preserve historical facts. Poland’s right-wing government has repeatedly presented Poland as the victim of the Nazis without reference to antisemitism before, during and after the Holocaust.
In interview at Auschwitz with Polish TV, the mayor said: “We must be vigilant and we cannot be complacent.”
Khan’s first action as mayor was to speak at a Holocaust Memorial Day event and he has maintained regular contact with survivors and Holocaust charities ever since.
The Polish Embassy in the UK responded to Jewish News, saying: “We appreciate Mayor of London Sadiq Khan’s donation to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Foundation. It will support Poland’s efforts to preserve the memory of the victims of the Holocaust, with our country allocating nearly £14 million for this purpose in various forms each year.
“Poland plays the role of one of the guardians of the memory of millions of Jews murdered. Out of six million Jews – victims of Holocaust, three million were Jews – citizens of Poland. With that in mind, claims that history is being rewritten by Poland are unfounded and must be addressed.
“So, while we need to face the truth that some individuals were forced by the German occupier to collaborate with German Nazi machinery of extermination or even did so of their own will, these attitudes were not, however, dominant or typical. The Polish state consequently opposed the Holocaust, informed the international public opinion about the Holocaust, and appealed to Allied governments to undertake actions to stop it.”
The ongoing diplomatic row between Poland, Russia and the Jewish world flared into life last week at Yad Vashem when President Duda refused to attend the Yad Vashem ceremonies because he was not allowed to speak — although Putin was.
This week Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, threw his hat into the ring as an unanticipated guest at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Foundation’s dinner for survivors in Krakow.
During an earlier World Jewish Congress event that day, the former Israeli ambassador, Colette Avital, spoke critically of both presidents Duda and Putin “giving their own interpretation of history.”.
She said there had been a “re-writing of history, including that of Poland. We are seeing people who need to re-create their identity and embellish the past. We have a moral duty to remember responsibly”.
Michael Newman, chief executive of the Association of Jewish Refugees, said: “While it is absolutely appropriate to remember that Polish citizens suffered brutally under Nazi occupation, the Mayor of London is correct to highlight the concerns raised by many of the world’s leading Holocaust scholars that the current government of Poland is attempting to stifle discussion of well-documented collaboration by some Poles.
“Poland can mourn its persecuted and murdered citizens; honour its rescuers and resisters; and cast a critical spotlight on its collaborators at the same time. There should be no shame in addressing history in all its complexity.”