My grandfather, whose family was murdered in the Holocaust, told me many times that he would never forgive Poland for what happened. "But Grandpa," I said at one point. "It was the Germans who were in charges of the Holocaust. Why are you so angry at the Poles."
He was so angry as he answered that spittle continually flew from his lips. "The POles could not wait to get rid of the Jews," he told me. He did not yell. He said it patiently, explaining to a naive young American girl what it was like to be surrounded by people who hated you. "The Germans would not know who was Jewish and who was not if the Poles did not turn them over. They used every opportunity to get rid of the Jews. They to this day deny what they did, how they helped. At least the Germans are honest about what they did to us."
Of course, I now understand how simple part of this answer is. While certainly anti-Semitism raged in Poland before the war, there were many, many people like Zofia Kossak-Szczucka who overlooked their hatred of their Jewish neighbors because they hated the Germans more. There were countless others who helped because they were good people, like the organizers of Żegota, which was officially (albeit inadequately) supported by the Polish government in exile. People who might have helped did not do so because Poland was the only occupied nation in which anyone caught harboring or assisting Jews would immediately be killed, as would their families. It is hard for me to fault people for not endangering their families.
Yet my grandfather was also correct. Poland still, for the most part, refused to see how victims (and the average Poles were indeed horribly victimized the the Nazis) can also be victimizers. For every Pole who did the right thing, far more turned in Jews for nothing more than a bottle of vodka or as much as the Jews' belongings. Citizens went out of their ways to harass Jews, even without Nazis around. The Polish underground resistance, Armia Krajowa, declared that those who turned in Jews would be branded collaborators and shot. (At least that was the official line, as many of the leaders of Armia Krajowa were anti-Semites who wanted the Jews out of Poland. The whole thing is morally complicated and tangled with contradictions.) I understand why my grandfather could not look beyond his own experiences.
What I've been forced to confront, though, is how equally complicit the US government is/was in ensuring that millions of Jews were allowed to be murdered. PBS has an amazing website that examines Americ and the Holocaust. America does not look good. The State Department was run by a raging lunatic, Breckenridge Long, who intentionally denied visas to desperate Jews seeking a way out. Because of him, over 90% of the immigrations quotas went unfilled in the late 1930s and early 1940s.
Worse, the State Department interfered with reports from Europe detailing how bad the situation was, and intentionally derailed the Bermuda Conference, called by Britain, a nation with some sort of moral conscience and serious concern over the situation. Long is as guilt of mass murder as anyone in Poland. Roosevelt choose to do nothing until almost all of Poland's Jews were already gassed and cremated. Only increased pressure by Congress - and the Treasury Department's discovery of the extent of evil actions undertaken the the State Department - caused him to create the (grossly underfunded) War Refugee Board. It saved approximately 200,000 people in a year. Imagine what could have happened if action were taken sooner.
I understand the very complicated nature of the time period. There was a Depression. Popular anti-Semites railed and rallied people across the country, scapegoating Jews for the nation's problems. But after the war, there was no excuse. However, the US chose to do the wrong thing again.
When I visited Berlin in 1997, I went to the Wannsee Villa Museum. The Wannsee Villa is where the Nazis sat around a table and planned the methodical extermination of Europe's Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, and other "undesirables." The Museum's most chilling exhibit, though, detailed what happened to these men after the war: nothing. The Americans deemed these mass murderers who destroyed thousands of communities crucial to rebuilding Germany. They obtained prominent positions in government and industry, living luxurious lives.
Today, the New York Times reported that it went further than that. A significantly censored report found that "American intelligence officials created a 'safe haven' in the United States for Nazis and their collaborators after World War II, and it details decades of clashes, often hidden, with other nations over war criminals here and abroad." In a way, I am not surprised. The US - far from being a beacon of freedom and hope in many nations in which is props up brutal dictators - has a long history of vile, morally repulsive actions. What this changes, for me, is that I can't criticize the Polish government for whitewashing its past. I live in a country filled with its own self-righteous hypocritical liars.