European societies towards the Holocaust

Speakers from Poland and abroad took part in the second day of the conference “Being a witness to the Holocaust”.

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Speakers from Poland and abroad took part in the second day of the conference “Being a witness to the Holocaust”. Their speeches included the matter of the attitudes of different European societies towards the Holocaust, among others, German, Ukrainian, Dutch, Romanian and Polish.

A lecture by dr Beata Kosmala opening the conference was dedicated to the attitudes of, so called, common Germans, residents of Berlin, towards the deportation of Jews. The speaker challenged the reliability of two opposite views of Berlin during the war. On one hand, a completely Nazified city, whereas on the other hand, a center of resistant movements against Hitler’s politics. According to Kosmala, what distinguished the residents of Berlin was the fact that they decided to help hiding Jews more often than residents of other big, German cities.

Prof. Tomasz Stryjek talked about the attitude of Ukrainian society towards the memory of the Holocaust. The main theme of the paper was the matter of consciously omitting the subject of the Holocaust by the officials in their politics of memory. Stryjek, seeking the reasons for this silence, indicates that the problem of Ukrainian anti-Semitism, the susceptibility to German propaganda and the involvement of the Ukrainians in the Holocaust all extremely antagonizes the society. The officials are therefore worried that those disputes may weaken the unity of Ukrainian national identity, which is burdened with historical division anyway. The Ukrainian society is divided into those being for European nationalism and those faithful to the Soviet model in which ethnic matters were marginalized. 

The subject of prof. Dana Michman’s speech was the attitude of Dutch society towards the Holocaust and the post-war aspect of its memory. In the first two post-war decades, there was a dominant belief that the Dutch had behaved extremely decently and had helped their Jewish neighbors. What indicates this is the fact that the highest percentage of those honored with Righteous Among the Nations title was among the Dutch. In addition, the Diary of Anne Frank also presents similar picture. According to Frank’s journals, the Dutch were not considered as a threat for hiding Jews. However, such belief was questioned by the research that has been conducted since the mid 1960s. It turned out that some of the Dutch had benefited financially because of the deportation of Jews. Also, it came to light that many Dutch police officers had eagerly helped in search for the hiding Jews. Those facts were crucial in explaining the phenomenon of why only 25% of persecuted Jews survived despite often received help from the Dutch.

The subject of the lecture given by Radu Ioanid was the shape of the memory of the Holocaust in Romania. The first part of the lecture was devoted to the Roman anti-Semitism before the war and the complicity of Romania under the rule of Marshal Ion Antonescu in the Holocaust. In the second part of the speech, Ioanid talked about the fact that after the fall of communism, and somehow in opposition to the regime, the Marshal started to escalate to the level of a national hero. Most of the Romanians were able to forgive him the war crimes, which had been denied by many historians anyway. The situation changed when Romania joined NATO and started negotiations with the European Union. These institutions forced Romania to stop exposing Antonescu, who was considered to be a war criminal. The officials of Romania listened. As a result, the monuments were removed, the names of the streets including Marshal’s name were changed and even the language used while talking about the former hero was verified. According to Ioanid, the aforementioned actions resulted in permanent change of social consciousness about the events related to the Holocaust.


The last lecture of the conference, given by Adam Sitarek, was devoted to the image of the Łódź Ghetto that Polish and German residents of this city bear. Sitarek has researched preserved journals and accounts. In both of them, written by the Polish as well as the German, he found a full emotional spectrum: from the satisfaction with what had happened to Jews, through indifference to compassion. The speaker indicated one significant difference between the Germans (the residents of the city) and the Polish in terms of their attitude towards their Jewish neighbors. Sitarek believes that the Polish, especially those living in the districts located close to the ghetto, had more personal relationships with Jews because they often smuggled commodities into the ghetto. 

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