Poland’s senate has approved a controversial bill that makes it illegal to accuse the nation of complicity in crimes committed by Nazi Germany, including the Holocaust. The bill, which passed with 57 votes to 23 (with two abstentions) early Thursday morning, also bans the use of terms such as “Polish death camps” in relation to camps such as Auschwitz, which were located in Nazi-occupied Poland. To become law, the bill must now be signed by Polish President Andrzej Duda, who has previously expressed his support. Violations will be punished by a fine or a jail sentence of up to three years. While there is a consensus among historians that certain Polish individuals and groups did collaborate with the Nazi occupiers, recent Polish governments have sought to challenge that narrative. This legislation, which will outlaw any remark that attributes responsibility to Poland for the Nazi crimes, marks the most significant victory for those seeking to defend “the good name of Poland,” a stated aim of the bill.
History is a powerful thing. Those who control its telling and teaching control how a nation views itself. The recent revelation that only 8% of American high school students could identify slavery as the central cause of the American Civil War should be cause for grave concern. That it’s not says a lot about what lies ahead for American race relations…and the news isn’t good.
Poland has decided they don’t like being known as having been complicit in the Holocaust…and so the government is set to criminalize reference to terms such as “Polish death camps.” It’s all about defending “the good name of Poland,” don’tchaknow? No, it’s really about whitewashing history in a way which absolves Poland of any responsibility in genocide- the murder of six million innocent Jews.
Israel’s Holocaust museum and the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, Yad Vashem, said in a statement the new legislation risked blurring “the historical truths regarding the assistance the Germans received from the Polish population during the Holocaust.”
The statement went on: “There is no doubt that the term “Polish death camps” is a historical misrepresentation!… However, restrictions on statements by scholars and others regarding the Polish people’s direct or indirect complicity with the crimes committed on their land during the Holocaust are a serious distortion.”
That history is written by the victors is an indisputable truth. That the way history is written is more often than not slanted to reflect favorably upon the victors is, sadly, a common human failing. Ignoring, denying, and/or altering historical truth is an undeniable crime against future generations, who will be harmed by being propagandaized into believing a warped interpretation of crucial historical events. The history of the 20th century is replete with examples of history being used and misused by despots for their own selfish ends.
Auschwitz. Treblinka. The Warsaw Ghetto. During World War II, Poland became the epicenter of the Nazis’ crimes—but soon, implying that those crimes were committed by the Polish state will itself be a crime. A controversial new law in Poland makes it illegal to accuse the nation of being complicit with Nazi crimes like the Holocaust. It also outlaws the phrase “Polish death camps.” Both are punishable by prison sentences of up to three years….
Those historical truths have long been the subject of passionate debate—and are sensitive in Poland, which suffered immense persecution and loss during World War II. Adolf Hitler didn’t just wage war against Poland: He wanted to wipe the country off the map entirely and re-populate it with Germans. Three million Polish Jews were murdered in the Holocaust; another 3 million Polish civilians and military personnel are thought to have perished at the hands of the Nazis. Nearly 18 percent of Poland’s population died during World War II, including 90 percent of Polish Jews, the largest group of Jews murdered in the Holocaust.
There’s little doubt but that Poland and its people suffered tremendously during WWII, and that’s certainly an important part of the equation. The history of Poland during WWII is complex, painful, and- more than 70 years after the war’s end- extremely controversial. This is exactly why it’s so important to address this history with compassion, sensitivity, and devotion to telling the truth. One can’t credibly claim “never again” if they’re not honestly and fully aware of the history they’re declaring a commitment to not repeating.
Yad Vashem, Israel’s memorial to Holocaust victims says Poland’s proposal law is
liable to blur the historical truths regarding the assistance the Germans received from the Polish population during the Holocaust.
Yes, Poland suffered during WWII, but some Poles collaborated with the Nazi occupiers in carrying out their Final Solution. This should not be forgotten. Poland needs to address this reality openly and honestly. It must commit to telling their story truthfully and without embellishment or omission.
“Never again” is a noble goal, but when not honestly supported by the absolute truth of history, it will inevitably break free from its mooring and drift aimlessly on the ebbs and flows of propaganda. The six million victims of the Holocaust deserve better. Their memory demands the truth be told without reservation, consideration or political calculation.
Anything less is merely cheap, self-serving propaganda.