Polish antisemitism during the second world war | Letters

Andy Stelman on the prejudice suffered by his father and other Jews in the Polish army, and Zaki Cooper on Poland’s attempt to outlaw discussion of its role in the Holocaust

Jonathan Freedland’s article (No law can protect the truth of the Holocaust, 3 February) is scrupulously balanced and cites excellent authorities for his evidence that, though there were indeed many Poles who were “righteous among the nations”, there were many more complicit in the persecution and betrayal of Jews. May I offer a more prosaic and less fateful, but nevertheless very damning instance?

In 1940, just before the German invasion of Paris, an 18-year-old boy, Polish by birth but who had lived in Paris nearly all his life, having left Warsaw to escape the antisemitism there, fled with the rest of the Polish army (of which he was a member since he still had Polish, not French, nationality). They made it to the coast and ended up in Irvine, where there were other branches of the Polish armed services, notably the air force.

Such was the daily experience of antisemitism of Jewish servicemen there that a plan was devised for a mass desertion and subsequent presentation to the British authorities in London for enrolment into the British army or air force.

Because my father (the 18-year-old) had been confined to barracks for some minor misdemeanour, he was stopped when leaving camp and, once the desertion became known to the Polish senior officers, was imprisoned on camp awaiting court martial.

My mother contacted several members of parliament, Tom Driberg brought this situation to the attention of the House of Commons (as recorded in Hansard), and parliamentary pressure obliged the Poles to release him so that he could do what the other “deserters” had already done, namely join the British armed services. He subsequently served in Burma for four years and never once experienced any animosity towards him as a Jew.
Andy Stelman
Bishops Castle, Shropshire

• Poland’s attempt to outlaw discussion of its own chequered role in the Holocaust is unwise. Attempting to set out a singular view of history is dangerous. Vigorous and free historical debate may make us uncomfortable at times, but is the best modus operandi.

We may not like the offensive and ridiculous claims of Holocaust deniers, but it is the price we pay for free speech. The US supreme court justice Louis Dembitz Brandeis (1856-1941) once famously said: “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants” and the Polish government should take note.
Zaki Cooper

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