Poland is not exactly remembered for being friendly to the Jewish people during World War II. A country that was once the home of over three million Jews, now only has about 10,000, and even they, don’t feel very safe in Poland. The once vibrant Jewish community of pre-World War II has been drastically reduced by the Nazi war machine and the Death Camps–many of them erected in Poland. The most destructive being Auschwitz-Birkenau. There is no possible way to deny that millions of innocent Jewish victims were murdered in those places, not to mention other minorities.
It is also very difficult to completely separate the Death Camps destructive agenda from Polish involvement, and yet this is exactly what a new law passed in February 2018 is attempting to do. President Andrzej Duda of Poland signed a bill that became law, making it a crime (up to three years in prison, plus a fine) to call the German death Camps built on Polish soil, “Polish Death Camps.” He has made several public speeches stating that signing the bill into law was not meant to erase or diminish the fate of the victims of the Holocaust, but that is exactly what it could achieve!
Poland comprised all players found on the “Holocaust spectrum.” Many Poles were victims (most of them Jewish, but some of them not.) Some were even perpetrators and co-perpetrators with the Nazis. Another large group was made of the bystanders who looked the other way even when human ashes flew across Polish skies and landed in their front yards, sometimes up to a 10 miles radius. This makes it impossible to claim ignorance of the facts. Willful bystanders always facilitate driven perpetrators.
The new law states that anyone who “publicly and untruthfully assigns responsibility or co-responsibility to the Polish Nation or the Polish State for Nazi crimes” could be imprisoned. So now, it is illegal to assign any guilt to Poland for the “German Camps.” I understand that Poland was invaded by Germany and didn’t always have a choice, but by completely erasing Polish responsibility, or to a certain extent, blame shifting, we insult the last few Holocaust survivors, not to mention the memory of the six million.
Sure, the Polish government is “tired” of being remembered as the country were the Holocaust took place, and they are hoping to change that stigma. Do we change a stigma by re-writing history? It would be better to recognize and accept the truth that Poland was one of many pieces on the chess board of the Holocaust. It would also be helpful to recognize that Holocaust guilt, while partially shared with non-Jewish Poles, was not uniform across the board. Many Poles helped the Nazis but many also helped the Jews and were recognized as Righteous Gentiles by Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. Poles constitute the highest number of Righteous Gentiles over any other nations in the world, and that is something they could refocus their energy on, instead of trying to erase the negative aspect of their unavoidable history.
Some people have the gall to claim that the Holocaust never happened. This law doesn’t claim that, but it whitewashes Polish involvement and it is historical revisionism all the same. It is a shame that history has now become a slave of the legal system. Passing laws to force people into believing or at least accepting a flawed political decision regarding a period of history is simply wrong.
The Holocaust was and remained the epitome of human depravity and evil. Nobody wants to take ownership of that huge blood stain in human history, but it happened! Nazi Germany might have been the key player, but France had its hands in it through the Vichy Government, Italy was involved with Mussolini and his fascist cohorts, Pope Pius XII did very little in denouncing Hitler’s destructive and violent program, and even the United States had a role in the outcome as President Roosevelt missed several opportunities to save Jews out of Europe.
So come on Poland, Fess up! You are not alone in sharing some of the guilt for the Holocaust. Stop shifting the blame!