Simon Wiesenthal Centre sets up hotline in Poland


The Simon Wiesenthal Nazi War Crimes Centre recently set up a hotline in Poland. The aim is to get information about persons suspected of crimes during the Holocaust. But the move has met with fierce criticism from some prominent people. Poland has recently gone through a public debate about anti-Semitism and the Holocaust after a lengthy investigation over a series of massacres of Jews by their Polish neighbours.

According to the Simon Wiesenthal Centre the "last chance" hotline telephone programme geared to seek out personal testimonies about Poles who collaborated with the Nazis in the killing of Jews during the Second World War is crucial in the crusade to convict war criminals for atrocities against humanity. But there are several Polish newsmakers who have gone on record saying that the hotline is too late in coming 60 years after the war, or that the entire scheme is dubious because the Centre plans on paying witnesses for their testimonies. Sociologist Irenusz Krzeminski says that there are several factors who some Poles feel that the Nazi war crimes hotline is a bad idea.

"Sufferings of other nations, especially Poles, are completely disappearing in this memory of the past. And Poles, I think, in the reaction of this situation, had not such good feelings about Jews at this moment, because most Poles are feeling now that the Polish sufferings was great enough to be remembered and to be known to the world too. So, therefore, I think, this idea to make such a testimony and pay for it is so bad."

But Jewish historian Piotr Koral disagrees with this mindset saying that the hotline may prove useful.

"Testimonies of witnesses are sometimes the only source of information which is available. And from that point of view I consider such an action as something reasonable. I know that there are people who remember the times of the Second World War, and who live in contemporary Poland, many of them were moved from eastern parts of Poland, after 1945, who were witnesses to many war crimes taking place on these territories now belonging to Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania or Latvia. This is something reasonable for me that the people who want to get more precise information about such controversial, usually kept in secret, things like war crimes, are trying to contact witnesses and to use this source of information."

Such programs have already proved useful in the Baltic States, Romania and Austria. While Lithuanians and Ukrainians were involved in structural collaboration with the Nazis there were no such pro-Nazi formal organized groups in Poland. Konstanty Gebert of the Jewish magazine Midrasz magazine thinks that those who object to the hotline being targeted at Poland are missing the point.

"Anonymous telephone evidence certainly is not suitable for court. However, people calling do also have the option of putting forward the name and stating they would be willing to testify in court. So, at least part of the evidence, collected that way, would be admissible. So the east is finally coming clean. The east had also been making efforts - politicized under the Communist regime to be sure, but still certainly of importance. It is simply the fact that the murder has been committed here and therefore there are more witnesses available and in all probability more suspects still around."

Polish law prohibits witnesses from being paid for testimonies concerning crimes against humanity. In Poland, telephone testimonies must be followed up by personal interviews with prosecutors for the information to be valid in court.


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