On January 26, the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Polish parliament voted in want of a bill making it illegal to accuse Poland of complicity in Nazi crimes.
This prompted immediate outrage around the arena and nowhere greater so than in a country that has been, till now, a near best friend of Poland: Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defined the invoice as “distortion of the truth, the rewriting of records and the denial of the Holocaust.”
And but, 10 days later, Poland’s president, Andrzej Duda, signed the bill into regulation retorting that “the historical fact is that there was no systematic institutionalized participation among Poles [in the Holocaust].”
What is going on? Why, over 70 years since the quiet of the Second World War, is this argument taking place?
I am a sociologist who has studied controversies around the reminiscence of the Holocaust in Poland. For me, this dispute is extra than a disaster for Polish-Jewish members of the family. It is, particularly, a crisis in Poland’s national identification.
The memory of World War II in Poland
This is not the first time the Poles have legislated against what they see as defamation of Poland’s record in World War II, but it’s far absolutely the maximum extensive-achieving. Under this new law, the punishment for humans claiming that “the Polish Nation or the Republic of Poland is accountable or co-responsible for Nazi crimes committed through the Third Reich” contains a probable jail sentence of up to 3 years.
The timing of the vote was no accident. The authorities used the occasion of International Holocaust Remembrance Day as a platform to denounce the misnomer “Polish death camps” that a few – which includes former President Barack Obama – have used to consult Nazi attention camps in occupied Poland.
The Polish authorities, in conjunction with other Polish businesses, has been fighting using that expression in foreign media for numerous years, and with huge achievement. Most American newspapers and different principal media retailers have up to date their stylebooks to prevent the ones words being used.
Nevertheless, given the growing controversy, the German minister of foreign affairs took it upon himself to declare that the Germans bore the whole responsibility for the extermination camps. But then he added that “the movements of character collaborators do now not modify that fact.”
And therein lies the rub.
Many Poles locate it hard to accept they may have performed a role in the Holocaust. That is because, unlike many different nations, the Polish kingdom did not collaborate with the Nazis. Considered an inferior race by the Nazis, Poles have been focused on cultural extermination to facilitate German growth to the East. Polish elites had been systematically murdered. Tens of thousands of Poles were imprisoned in concentration camps or have been compelled into slave labor.
Poland’s losses in World War II have been giant: Approximately 6 million Polish citizens have been killed inside the battle, over half of whom had been Jewish. Warsaw turned into left in ruins, and its 1944 rebellion by myself value the lives of about one hundred fifty,000 residents.
The dominant Polish narrative of World War II is, consequently, approximately victimhood, which suits squarely into its broader countrywide mythology of martyrdom.
Repeatedly invaded by its effective neighbors, the Polish nation disappeared from the European map for over a century – from 1795 to 1918. Poland’s countrywide bard, the nineteenth-century poet Adam Mickiewicz, defined his united states as a “Christ amongst countries.” In this telling Poles are a chosen human beings, innocent patients at the palms of evil oppressors.
“Revelations” of crimes committed towards Jews via Poles tarnish this narrative and shake Polish national identity to its center.
The fact is, however, as historians have shown, crimes devoted towards Jews via Poles had been lots greater commonplace and substantial than most people realized.
Perhaps the maximum arguable and impactful studies is that of the Polish-born Princeton University professor, Jan T. Gross.
In his 2000 e-book Neighbours, Gross recounts in painful element the violent murders of Jews by means of their ethnically Polish neighbors in the small town of Jedwabne on July 10, 1941.
Thee bookmarked a watershed within the public debate approximately Polish-Jewish members of the family.
On July 10, 2001, more or less a yr after the book of Gross’ e-book, the Polish authorities stated the murders and erected a monument at the web page wherein numerous hundred Jews have been forcibly added to a barn and burned alive. Although the monument’s inscription fails to explicitly suggest that it was ethnic Poles and now not Germans who devoted the crime, the legitimate apology with the aid of then-President Aleksander Kwaśniewski was unequivocal. “Here in Jedwabne,” he said, “citizens of the Republic of Poland died on the fingers of different citizens of the Republic of Poland.”
Such changed into the shock the story of Jedwabne triggered that its miles viable to distinguish among Poland “earlier than and after” the arrival of Gross’ book. As leading Catholic journalist Agnieszka Magdziak Miszewska positioned it: “Facing as much as the painful fact of Jedwabne is … the maximum critical take a look at that we Poles have needed to confront in the closing decade.”
Law and Justice’s politics of history
It is that test, arguably, that the ruling Law and Justice celebration is failing.
In the warfare over Polish collective memory, the celebration has been selling the tales of the Poles who rescued Jews – and who are commemorated via Israel as the “Righteous Among Nations” – by way of creating museums and monuments in their call.
Through the brand new “Holocaust Law,” the government is, in effect, trying to repress information of crimes dedicated against Jews via Poles. The defense of the law, however, goes one step similarly. In an extraordinary case of what I would describe as manipulating the message, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki issued a video announcement claiming that it’s for the Poles who’re the guardians of historical truth and fighters towards hatred.
And yet, the same politicians remain silent while their supporters specific anti-Semitic and anti-refugee views. On February 5, for example, demonstrators impatient for President Duda to signal the Holocaust regulation gathered in the front of the Presidential Palace chanting anti-Semitic slogans and annoying that he “remove [his] yarmulke and signal the law!”
The president did sign the law, but he also despatched it to the country’s constitutional court docket for examination.
Those Poles opposed to the regulation – and there are numerous, judging by means of the variety of enterprises and public figures denouncing it and the number of petitions circulating – desire that it will be deemed unconstitutional as it represses freedom of speech and will appreciably curtail academic research.
The ConversationRegardless of the last final results, but, the government’s politics of history will stay waged on many other fronts. What is at stake, in my view, is nothing much less than the definition of Polish countrywide identity. This is why, for all of the global outrage, the talk approximately the Holocaust regulation is hottest internal Poland, among Poles who are now debating what its approach to be Polish and where Poland is going.