Poland and the Holocaust

There’s been a lot in the media about Poland criminalizing any mention of Poles being involved in the Holocaust, but as Deane Galbraith shows, these reports are misleading and never quote the legislation:

“The amendment does not apply to those who blame individual Poles for individual acts of collaboration with the Nazis. The scale of the involvement of Poles in the Holocaust is a matter of ongoing historical debate. Polish authorities tend to emphasize the role of those who assisted Jews during the German occupation, and minimize the role of those Poles who were complicit. Others have less favourable opinions of Polish involvement in the Nazi Holocaust. Yet this debate will still be allowed under the legislation, as the legislative amendments don’t apply to this debate. In addition, there is an explicit exemption even for attributing it to the Polish Nation or State, for ‘artistic or academic activity’ (Article 55A(3)).

“What the Polish legislation does deal with is the false attribution of the German Holocaust to the Polish Nation or State. This is beyond doubt, as the Polish State did not in fact exist after the German takeover during WWII, except in exile. Poles have been understandably upset that the German death camps have been regularly, but misleadingly, referred to as ‘Polish death camps’ – including in a 2012 speech by the US President Barack Obama. They are especially aggrieved given the fact that 6 million Poles died at the hands of the German Nazis, including 3 million Jewish Poles and 3 million non-Jewish Poles.

“As recently as 29 June 2017, Israel agreed that the description ‘Polish death camps’ was incorrect… But now that Poland has made the very phrase ‘Polish Death Camps’ illegal, Israel has taken the opposite stance, interpreting the Polish legislation as itself being a ‘denial of the Holocaust’. The Israeli response is, at least, a badly judged response based on poor news reporting.”

As a sidebar, I don’t believe government should be enacting any legislation at all like this: free speech should never be criminalized. But the point isn’t that Poland doesn’t have the First Amendment. As objectionable as the legislation is, it isn’t nearly as odious or restrictive as the media has been making it out to be. It doesn’t restrict academic debates about the issue, nor any discussion (academic or otherwise) of the involvement of individual Poles. The media repeatedly implies those things, in the posts cited by Galbraith, and also yesterday’s Conversation article “New ‘Holocaust law’ highlights crisis in Polish identity”. The latter concludes:

“Through the new ‘Holocaust Law,’ the government is, in effect, trying to repress knowledge of crimes committed against Jews by Poles… Those Poles opposed to the law – and there are many, judging by the number of organizations and public figures denouncing it and the number of petitions circulating – hope that it will be deemed unconstitutional because it represses freedom of speech and could significantly curtail academic research.”

But again, the legislation doesn’t do either of the things I italicized. Yes, it represses free speech — which makes it bad legislation by definition — but not to the extent the Israelis and the media are implying.

Read Galbraith’s whole piece here.

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