Poland was not perfect, but no antisemitic state

By Witold Sobków, February 20, 2014

I was appalled by two statements in an article by Geoffrey Alderman on the First World War (January 10). Mr Alderman wrote that “during the 1920s, the post-war governments of Poland enacted draconian anti-Jewish legislation, which in some respects served as a model for similar enactments in Nazi Germany in the following decade” and remarked on the “extent of Polish collaboration in the Nazi extermination of the Jews”.

There are more Poles recognised as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem than any other national group.

Zegota, also known as the Polish Council to Aid Jews, an underground body operating under the auspices of the Polish Government in Exile, helped the country’s Jews in and outside ghettos, and was the only organisation of this type in occupied Europe.

According to the best of our knowledge, the only example of discriminatory legislation adopted in the interwar period was the law on the registry of officers, created on June 17, 1919.

The Treaty between the Principal Allied and Associated Powers and Poland signed on June 28, 1919 granted basic rights to all the inhabitants of the country irrespective of their birth, nationality, language, race or religion, while special rights were conferred on the Jewish minority. The treaty was incorporated into the Polish constitution on April 1935.

The Jewish minority was represented in parliament but also in local administrative bodies. The two largest Jewish-influenced parties in this period were Aguda, an Orthodox party; and Bund, a Socialist party. Jewish politicians were also elected to the Polish parliament as representatives of the Bloc of National Minorities.

In the 1920s, 80 per cent of the state education system accommodated the needs of minorities. That included Jewish schools and Judaism lessons.

On higher education, the picture was less positive. This was not due to legislation, but the antisemitic attitudes of some academic authorities. In the academic year 1924-25, Jews constituted 21 per cent of students, while from 1937-38 they made up only 10 per cent.

While it is a shameful truth that prejudice existed towards Jews in Poland in the inter-war period, there was no “draconian anti-Jewish legislation”, that could have “served as a model for similar enactments in Nazi Germany”. As for supposed wide-scale “Polish collaboration in the Nazi extermination of the Jews”, this is simply untrue.

Witold Sobków is Poland’s Ambassador to Britain

Last updated: 11:45pm, February 20 2014