On January 26, the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Polish parliament voted in favor of an invoice making it illegal to accuse Poland of complicity in Nazi crimes.
This brought on immediate outrage around the sector and nowhere more so than in a rustic that has been, till now, a near best friend of Poland: Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defined the invoice as “distortion of the fact, the rewriting of history and the denial of the Holocaust.”
And yet, 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 taking place? Why, over 70 years for the reason that stop of the Second World War, is this argument taking vicinity?
I am a sociologist who has studied controversies around the memory of the Holocaust in Poland. For me, this dispute is greater than a disaster in Polish-Jewish members of the family. It is, principally, a crisis in Poland’s national identification.
The reminiscence of World War II in Poland
This isn’t always the first time the Poles have legislated in opposition to what they see as defamation of Poland’s document in World War II, however, it’s miles honestly the maximum extensive-accomplishing. Under this new regulation, the punishment for human beings claiming that “the Polish Nation or the Republic of Poland is accountable or co-accountable for Nazi crimes committed by using the Third Reich” incorporates a possible prison sentence of up to 3 years.
The timing of the vote became no twist of fate. The government used the occasion of International Holocaust Remembrance Day as a platform to denounce the misnomer “Polish death camps” that a few – such as former President Barack Obama – have used to refer to Nazi attention camps in occupied Poland.
The Polish authorities, at the side of different Polish organizations, has been fighting the use of that expression in foreign media for several years, and with vast fulfillment. Most American newspapers and other primary media retailers have up to date their stylebooks to stop those phrases getting used.
Nevertheless, given the developing controversy, the German minister of overseas affairs took it upon himself to declare that the Germans bore the entire duty for the extermination camps. But then he delivered that “the movements of man or woman collaborators do no longer regulate that reality.”
And therein lies the rub.
Many Poles find it tough to just accept they might have played a role in the Holocaust. That is because, unlike many different international locations, the Polish country did no longer collaborate with the Nazis. Considered an inferior race by using the Nazis, Poles had been centered for cultural extermination to facilitate German growth to the East. Polish elites had been systematically murdered. Tens of thousands of Poles have been imprisoned in attention camps or were pressured into slave labor.
Poland’s losses in World War II have been considerable: Approximately 6 million Polish citizens had been killed in the struggle, over half of whom had been Jewish. Warsaw was left in ruins, and its 1944 uprising alone cost the lives of approximately one hundred fifty,000 citizens.
The dominant Polish narrative of World War II is, consequently, about victimhood, which suits squarely into its broader countrywide mythology of martyrdom.
Repeatedly invaded by using its powerful pals, the Polish kingdom disappeared from the European map for over a century – from 1795 to 1918. Poland’s countrywide bard, the 19th-century poet Adam Mickiewicz, described his use as a “Christ amongst countries.” In this telling Poles are a delegated humans, harmless sufferers at the arms of evil oppressors.
“Revelations” of crimes committed in opposition to Jews through Poles tarnish this narrative and shake Polish countrywide identity to its center.
The reality is, however, as historians have proven, crimes dedicated towards Jews by Poles were tons extra every day and significant than most of the people found out.
Perhaps the maximum controversial and impactful research is that of the Polish-born Princeton University professor, Jan T Gross. In his 2000 ebook Neighbors, Gross recounts in painful detail the violent murders of Jews by using their ethnically Polish friends inside the small town of Jedwabne on July 10, 1941.
Thee bookmarked a watershed within the public debate about Polish-Jewish relations.
On July 10, 2001, kind of a yr after the publication of Gross’ book, the Polish authorities mentioned the murders and erected a monument at the site in which several hundred Jews have been forcibly added to a barn and burned alive. Although the monument’s inscription fails to explicitly indicate that it turned into ethnic Poles and now not Germans who dedicated the crime, the official apology by way of then-President Aleksander Kwaśniewski was unequivocal. “Here in Jedwabne,” he said, “residents of the Republic of Poland died on the palms of different residents of the Republic of Poland.”
Such became the shock the tale of Jedwabne precipitated that it is possible to differentiate among Poland “before and after” the arrival of Gross’ book. As the main Catholic journalist, Agnieszka Magdziak Miszewska put it: “Facing as much as the painful fact of Jedwabne is…The most extreme take a look at that we Poles have needed to confront in the closing decade.”
Law and Justice’s politics of records
It is that take a look at, arguably, that the ruling Law and Justice birthday celebration is failing.
In the struggle over Polish collective reminiscence, the birthday party has been promoting the testimonies of the Poles who rescued Jews – and who are commemorated by using Israel because of the “Righteous Among Nations” – by growing museums and monuments of their call.
Through the new “Holocaust Law,” the authorities are, in impact, seeking to repress expertise of crimes dedicated in opposition to Jews by means of Poles. The defense of the regulation, however, is going one step in addition. In an excellent case of what I might describe as manipulating the message, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki issued a video statement claiming that it’s miles the Poles who are the guardians of historical reality and combatants against hatred.
And yet, the equal politicians continue to be silent while their supporters express anti-Semitic and anti-refugee perspectives. On February five, for instance, demonstrators impatient for President Duda to signal the Holocaust regulation accumulated in front of the Presidential Palace chanting anti-Semitic slogans and demanding that he “dispose of [his] yarmulke and signal the law!”
The president did sign the law, however, he also sent it to u . S. A .’s constitutional court for examination.
Those Poles against the regulation – and there are numerous, judging via the variety of organizations and public figures denouncing it and the variety of petitions circulating – hope that it is going to be deemed unconstitutional as it represses freedom of speech and could substantially curtail academic studies.
Regardless of the remaining outcome, however, the authorities’ politics of records will stay waged on many different fronts. What is at stake, for my part, is not anything much less than the definition of Polish countrywide identification. This is why, for all of the international outrage, the talk about the Holocaust regulation is hottest inside Poland, amongst Poles who’re now debating what it method to be Polish and in which Poland is going.