Poland Seeks to Criminalize any Reference to Polish Participation in the Holocaust

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January 28, 2018 – The Polish parliament has approved a law that forbids use of the term “Polish Death Camp,” and forbids any other mention of the participation of the Poles in crimes committed during the Holocaust.  Anyone who violates the law, including non-Polish citizens, will be liable to receive a fine or up to three years of imprisonment. [1]  [2]

Legal authorities and others were quick to point out that the law in principle could be attached to anyone who reports or produces records of persecution by Poles of them or their families during the Holocaust, or researchers into the history of the Holocaust who are seeking to get more detailed records of events.

With regard to murders by Poles in the Holocaust, an article in Haaretz has reported that “According to the most extreme estimates, over 100,000 Jews were murdered over the course of the Holocaust with Polish assistance.” [3]

Speaking on the “Crossroads” TV show on Channel i24, Israel Charny, Director of the Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide in Jerusalem gave as his opinion that the Poles were justified in insisting that the camps were not “Polish death camps.”  Charny said, “The camps were set up by the Nazis, and even though there were clearly Poles who participated in the operation of the camps, their actions came under the Nazi regime which had occupied Poland in entirety.  However, in my opinion it would have been better to make this legitimate point a declaration by the government rather than a criminal law.”

He continued, “When it comes to the issue of Poles contributing to the Holocaust, it is well known that there were numerous incidents in which the Poles turned in and/or murdered Jews during the Holocaust as well as after the Holocaust.  Two famous massacres were the pogroms in Jedwabne in 1941 and then after the war in Kielce in 1946.”

The same position has been taken by Yad Vashem, acknowledging the legitimacy of the demand not to refer to the camps as Polish, but protesting severely the law against any mention of Polish responsibility for deaths of Jews in the Holocaust.

Charny emphasized that the law as a whole was a clear-cut example of one of the many strategies of denials of the Holocaust, in this case combining a legitimate restriction of charges of responsibility for the concentration camps with denial of historical truth as well as denials of freedom of expression and research, as if the legitimate restriction could hide or justify the subsequent denial of the Holocaust.

When asked by the television interviewer, Tracy Alexander, whether denials were particularly common among right-wing bigots, Charny replied that regrettably denials are very widespread and are to be found in quite unbelievable places, such as Israel’s denials of several genocides including the Armenian Genocide and currently the genocide in Myanmar, as well as the shameful record of Israel’s sales of arms to several countries even as those countries were committing genocide.  Denials are even to be found among bona fide genocide scholars and academic institutions such as the Journal of Genocide Research which published a series of articles minimizing the significance of the Holocaust, even including an article which denied that the Wannsee Conference in any way addressed a Final Solution specifically to the Jews.[4]

The following appears in a New York Times International editorial:

“In a striking coincidence, the Polish bill was passed just as the leader of a major Muslim institution in Saudi Arabia, a sternly Islamic kingdom better known for its virulently anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli positions, publicly proclaimed the Holocaust “among the worst human atrocities ever.” “One would ask, who in his right mind would accept, sympathize or even diminish the extent of this brutal crime?” demanded Mohammad Alissa of the Muslim World League in a letter to the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.

“Indeed, that is the question Poland should be asking, and in fact many Poles have been asking and should be encouraged to keep asking.”

[1] Eglash, Ruth and Selk, Avi (January 28, 2018). Israel and Poland try to tamp down tensions after Poland’s ‘death camp’ law sparks Israeli outrage. Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2018/01/27/it-could-soon-be-a-crime-to-blame-poland-for-nazi-atrocities-and-israel-is-appalled/?utm_term=.2b15ee66d4ff

[2] Spiegel Online (January 27, 2018). Israel kritisiert polnisches Gesetz zu NS-Todeslagern. http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/polen-kritik-aus-israel-an-strafvorschrift-zu-ns-todeslagern-a-1190160.html

[3] Aderet, Ofer (January 28, 2018).  Poland criminalizes mention of ‘Polish crimes’ in Holocaust.  Haaretz English Edition. https://www.haaretz.com/world-news/europe/.premium-poland-votes-to-criminalize-any-mention-of-polish-holocaust-crimes-1.5767561

[4] New York Times International (January 31, 2018). Poland’s Holocaust Blame Bill: In an effort to rewrite history, the Polish Parliament is debating a bill to criminalize discussion of the nation’s role in the Holocaust (Editorial).