Pathos on the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War, in which some 70 million people died, is hard to avoid. In Poland, the horrors of World War II began in Europe. For many Poles, however, the war was not over until the last Russian soldier left his homeland in 1993. Poland proportionally lost more citizens than any other country.
Six million Poles were killed, mainly by the German National Socialists. Among them were three million Polish Jews, half of the victims of the Holocaust, who wanted to be destroyed for no reason other than Jewish. Before the war, 20% of all Jews in the world lived in Poland. By the end of the war, 90% of the Jewish population had been eradicated.
In a painfully ironic twist, it was Rafael Lemkin, a Polish Jewish jurist who coined the term "genocide" and introduced it to the League of Nations for five years prior to the beginning of the war.
The lessons of this war can best be held together and taught by Poles and Jews, even though the tragic outcome of German aggression has ended the geographic interdependence of our two peoples in Poland, as has been the case for more than 800 years.
For the Poles, the war was never just about being the first openly militarily opposed to Hitler, as the Poles did in response to the wild Nazi blitzkrieg in order to rule Europe. Few remember that the war started as a joint attack by the Soviet Union and Germany, which lasted almost two years. Less than two weeks after the German invasion, the Soviets attacked Poland from the East to fulfill the secret annex to the German-Soviet Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact.
The highlight was the massacre of more than 20,000 Polish soldiers in Katyń in 1
Then came Hitler's inevitable betrayal of Stalin, an invasion in which the Nazis captured the rest of Poland and penetrated deep into Russia. Stalin, now a full Western ally, fought against the Germans as far as Berlin, costing lives.
But Poland was not liberated by the Allies, but occupied again. It was revealed at the Yalta Conference, which consolidated the borders of the Cold War in Europe for decades. "Sold to the Soviet Union" felt the Poles.
Imagine the feelings of the Polish gene. Władysław Anders and Stanisław Maczek and their husbands.
Anders had come with his famous 2nd Corps to the Western Front, which was responsible for the departure of the southern front in the Italian Monte Casino. He had taken Jews into his army, and some of these Jewish troops were eventually sent to Palestine as part of an Allied force. These included future Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, whom Anders later allowed and even encouraged to stay in Palestine to fight for the Zionist cause.
Maczek, meanwhile, led the Polish 1st Panzer Division, to which he still likes to remember many Frenchmen, Belgians and Dutchmen for the liberation of their cities after his successful Falaise pocket campaign during the Battle of Normandy.
Despite these exploits, Poland was subject for half a century.
While the remaining scars are still burning, it also makes the Poles sympathetic to the unfathomable betrayal of the world to the Jews. It was Captain Witold Pilecki, a Polish Army officer who, under the leadership of the Polish underground state, engaged in a raid to enter the Auschwitz concentration camp. Noting the genocide of the Jews on an industrial scale, he was the first to call the free world, through his smuggled reports, to bomb the death camp – to no avail.
It was another Polish officer and resistance fighter, Jan Karski, who was one of the first to report to the allies of the extermination camps in Europe and the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto. In the midst of widespread reports of the mass killing of Jews in Europe, the Allies refused to open their borders to Jewish refugees, to bomb the extermination camps or the railways leading to them, and to open the borders of Britain's mandated Palestine for Jews escape their biblical home.
Lately we have become accustomed to reading news about tensions between Poles and Jews, Poland and Israel. But on September 1, Poland and Jews must be united to witness the atrocities of this world war, when Hitler inflicted indescribable horror upon the history of the Polish nation in general and Polish Jews in particular, who bore the brunt of the greatest genocide in Poland.
We must work together for historical memory and work together to remember the victims of Hitler, to oppose any form of dictatorial oppression, to condemn the genocide wherever it arises, and unite us to increase anti-Semitism to fight around the world. Poles and Jews must commit to fighting for and enforcing the post-Holocaust reputation "never again".
Maciej Golubiewski is the Polish Consul General in New York. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the founder of the World Values Network.