The Dark Consequences of Poland’s New Holocaust Law

Source: The Atlantic



PARIS—The Polish scholar Jan T. Gross, an expert on the country during World War II, didn’t mince words when I asked him about Poland’s new law that would criminalize mentioning the complicity of “the Polish nation” in the crimes of the Holocaust. “It’s terrible,” he said by phone from Berlin, where he lives. “It criminalizes all survivors of the Holocaust. Every Jew who is still alive and comes from Poland could be prosecuted.” That might be going a bit far—it’s still quite unclear how the law would be applied, and it’s hard to imagine extradition cases for discussing Polish war crimes outside Poland. But his concern is worth heeding.

Gross isn’t the only one who’s upset. Israel’s government is up in arms. A visit by Israel’s education minister, Naftali Bennett, to Poland was canceled this week after he criticized the law. (“The blood of Polish Jews cries from the ground, and no law will silence it,” he said later.) U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the law would affect “freedom of speech and academic inquiry.” The leadership of Warsaw’s polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews issued a critical statement. So did the International Auschwitz Council, a board of advisers to the death-camp-turned-museum. And so did dozens of Polish historians, writing in The Guardian.

I can understand how Poles would be upset by the notion of “Polish death camps”—a term the new law criminalizes—since the camps were set up and run by Nazi Germany on Polish soil. (Germany and Israel have in fact called that phrase inaccurate in official statements.) But this law isn’t about the finer points of history. It is aimed at shoring up the right-wing base of the governing Law and Justice party—and it has done so at the expense of Poland’s standing on the world stage, and potentially its security.

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1 reply

  1. The funny thing is that in fact Poland is just copying Israel in this. It is Israel who pushed – successfully – to make it a crime to voice any doubts about the 6 million holocaust figure. Now Poland wants to make it a crime to blame any Poles. Both things are silly. We cannot control thoughts and beliefs.

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