Why Polish Deaths in WWII don't get Credit

The number of Poles who died in WWII at the hands of Hitler and Stalin is double what the world gives them credit for. Only half of those who died are included in the definition of “Holocaust.” That fact alone is a big part of what propels me forward in story-telling.
The three leading ‘Holocaust’ teaching institutions in the world are Yad Vashem in Israel, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. and the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Oświęcim, Poland. On the tourism level, fourth place would go to Anne Frank’s hiding place on Prinsengracht 263-267 in Amsterdam.

When I took a look at the roots of Yad Vashem I began to understand more fully.  
Yad Vashem was established in 1953 by Israel’s Knesset (their equivalent of Parliament) as the Jewish people’s living memorial, and the world center for documentation, research, education and commemoration of the six million Jews who died during the ‘Shoah’ (Hebrew for catastrophic destruction – now defined as the catastrophic destruction of European Jews 1933 – 1945).  The word ‘Holocaust’ means literally ‘burnt offering to God’ and didn’t really come into common use until the 1960’s, especially after the 1961 arrest and trial of Adolf Eichmann. Yad Vashem is funded by Israel and specifically dedicated to the memory of six million Jews. The organization celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2013.
But what about the other six million who died, namely 1.9 million non-Jewish Poles who died during the same time period, or the 200,000 Polish children kidnapped and sent to Germany? Hitler had declared Poles as Untermenschen – sub-human – and Poland was to be erased from the human mind. What about the recognition of the 3.3 million Soviet POWs who died?  What about the fact that for the first two years of Auschwitz the population was primarily non-Jewish Poles? What about the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Catholic priests and nuns, communists and unionists?  Well, the bottom line is Yad Vashem is funded by Israel and is not funded or designed to remember non-Jews unless they saved Jews at risk of their own lives (designated as Righteous Among the Nations.) As the world center dedicated to Holocaust memory and education, the organization has spent sixty years educating the world, and has done a phenomenal job – for their portion of history. But the people they remember and honor are only part of the total community of suffering, only one part of the ‘Mosaic of Victims’ as termed by Michael Birnbaum in 1990.
Secondarily, the effect of communism and the Cold War can’t be underestimated. It was neither politically correct nor popular during the Cold War to honor communists or Soviets who died at the hands of Hitler, even though the first occupants of Dachau in 1933 were communists. Poland was under communist domination from 1945 until 1989, partially because the West effectively gave her to Stalin at the Yalta Conference. Furthermore, many personal memoirs in Poland were either kept private by family members or went unpublished under the communist press. Furthermore, even if published, how many Americans can read Polish? Even confirmation of the murder of over 20,000 Polish army officers in the Katyn Forest was not officially verified until there was access to Russian records after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The communists allowed no honoring of Poles, and hid their own war culpability to the best of their ability.

I’ll add a powerful sub-component to the effect of communism – and that is the total lack of instruction on Eastern European history in schools outside of a Holocaust segment in middle school or high school, unless an honors student takes AP European History.
Thirdly, think of the popular films and books in the ‘Holocaust’ genre: Diary of Anne Frank; The Pianist; Sarah’s Key, Life is Beautiful, Escape from Sobibor, and the all-time Holocaust blockbuster: Schindler’s List in 1993. Night by Elie Wiesel is a one-book masterpiece. I saw one estimate of over 5,000 Holocaust books in print, of which a handful mention Poles or Christians. A search of YouTube for ‘Yad Vashem’ reveals over 21,000 hits – so beyond print and film, social media is also used extensively. 

But like believing that everything on the Internet is true, people don’t know or forget that Steven Spielberg took liberties with Schindler’s List for cinematic effect. Don’t get me wrong – Schindler’s List is incredibly powerful and well-done. After watching it through, one sits in stunned silence; I know I did. Poles actually like Polish director Roman Polanski’s The Pianist better.  But . . . all stories are edited down to space and time limitations. There is power in what remains and what is edited out, and what stories are made into film; choosing which stories will ‘sell.’  Name one Holocaust movie other than Schindler’s List where the protagonist is a non-Jew; even harder name one where the protagonist is a non-Jewish Pole. I’ve read Amazon reviews of the few Polish memoirs I’ve located. One review actually rated it a one – the lowest score – because it was ‘disrespectful of Jews’ and ‘Polish Catholics were anti-Semites and mostly to blame anyway.’  I wish I was making it up – but I’m not. It’s no more true than saying all Americans were slave holders and owe an apology for such. Every country has good and bad.
For these three reasons – the stated purpose of Yad Vashem, the impact of communism, and the impact of media, I’m lead to one truth that has always existed:   
            History is remembered as it is written (filmed and promoted.)
Which brings me back to why I’ve stayed with Henry’s story all these years and the story has become more than just a memoir: I’ve come to believe the Polish experience must be told with equal validity one story at a time.
Sources: Richard C. Lukas, Forgotten Holocaust, 1997; web site for Yad Vashem, www.yadvashem.org; A Mosaic of Victims:  Non-Jews Persecuted and Murdered by the Nazis,. edited by Michael Birnbaum, 1990.