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The passage of time is supposed to be a great healer. It can also expose wounds which were only partially covered. In Poland we see the latter.

The governing right-wing Law and Justice Party (PiS) has announced legislation which, if enacted, will make it a crime to refer to ‘Polish concentration camps ‘or ‘Polish death camps’. It is understandable that Poles are offended about German camps in Nazi occupied Poland being called Polish, but to seek to make it a crime punishable by three years in jail is about something else.

It is about a wider push to rewrite history and further Polish nationalism. Part of that push is an attempt to whitewash centuries of Polish anti-Semitism and its role in the Holocaust in order to portray the country only as a noble victim. If the foundation story of a nation is missing a significant part of its underpinning, there will always be a weakness in the foundation.

The warning signs were apparent during last summer’s election campaign after which the PiS came to power.  The then president, Bronislaw Komorowski, referred to the 1941 Jedwabne pogrom and acknowledged the historical record by saying ‘The nation of victims was also the nation of perpetrators’. His victorious opponent, Andrzej Duda later described this as an “attempt to destroy Poland’s good name.”

The behaviour of the PiS has led to the EU accusing Poland of potentially undermining democracy.

Attacks on media organizations are what most alarms the EU but there are also concerns over individual freedom of speech notably the threat to strip historian Jan Gross of his Order of Merit for suggesting Poles may have killed more Polish Jews in WW2 than did the Germans.

The government’s Defense Minister is on record as saying that the Protocols of the Elders of Zion are probably genuine, and one of its MPs believes that Polish Jews are represented by the Knesset rather than the parliament in Warsaw.

These are worrying times for the 10,000 or so Polish Jews who are the remnants of the 3.2 million prewar population.

They know there was a pogrom against them in 1946, and that in 1968 the Communist party conducted a witch-hunt against ‘Zionists’. Since the fall of Communism there have been signs of anti-Semitism returning to religious education classes within the Catholic church, and in this decade hundreds of Jewish cemeteries have been desecrated. A fundamentalist Christian broadcaster, Radio Maryja, which has ties to the PiS stands accused of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism and has been censured by the Vatican.

A 2013 poll found that 44% of students believed that “Poles and Jews suffered equally during the Holocaust”, and a 2014 survey by Warsaw University found that 63% of Poles believed there was a Jewish conspiracy to control international banking and the media.

‘Law and Justice’ is not a fascist party, but is authoritarian, nationalistic and is the most successful of a wave of similar parties which are growing across the continent. The attempts to solidify a part of the story of the founding of the modern Poland, as if it were the whole, is something which if allowed to be successful may be repeated elsewhere.

Adapted from an article first published in the UK’s Jewish Chronicle.


6 Comments on "Rewriting Poland’s History"

  1. mahatmacoatmabag | 26th August 2016 at 10:54 am | Reply

    The are taking the PiS out of history by attempting to rewrite it. The history of Poland is tainted with anti-Semitism, always has been & always will be and even If there were no Jews left in Poland today they would still be anti-Semites. As Israels former prime minister Yitzhak Shamir once stated that “every Pole sucked anti-Semitism with his mother’s milk.”

  2. Patrick Horwood | 26th August 2016 at 2:00 pm | Reply

    Excellent piece on a disturbing phenomenon. Ever since Napoleon and the Czars, Poland has been the target for obliteration but none more so than what was Europe’s largest Jewish population. The Polish are honourable and civilised but there was collaboration with the Nazis. History demands an honest account, not a partial version.

  3. The problem here is one of ‘Branding’, OK, that’s a controversial way to put it so I’ll explain.

    If I purchase a Ford Fiesta it could have been made at any number of factories scattered all over the world, maybe in the UK, maybe in Germany, maybe elsewhere. But, I don’t say I have a British Fiesta or a German Fiesta, it’s just a Ford Fiesta.

    So, apply the same logic to the present situation in Poland. They weren’t Polish death camps, or German death camps, or Austrian, they were Nazi death camps operated by one of the most evil regimes in human history. The majority of them happened to be in Poland and were nothing to do with a large majority of the Polish people, although I am sure that some local slave labor was used and, yes, I know that there was some collaboration. So, the sooner that everyone realizes that this was a Nazi operation to exterminate an entire people the happier I’ll be.

    Finally, the latest comment from mahatmacoatmabag. I’m part Polish and if you go back a couple of generations grandfather was Cantor at the central Synagogue in Warsaw until he relocated to Switzerland at the start of WWI. Apart from one family who escaped to Canada I lost the lot in the camps but I still have lots of friends in the Warsaw area. “Every Pole sucked anti-Semitism with his mother’s milk” is total rubbish and a slur on a fine and honorable people and he knows it.

  4. What a bizarre comment, they weren’t German death camps?, for real??. The camps in Poland were built at the behest of the German government and designed by German architects to house slave labour which worked for German companies. Victims were exterminated with a gas developed and produced in Germany. The camps were run by German officers commanding troops who whatever their nationality were part of the German armed forces. The camps were German, this mythical country called Nazi doesn’t exist.

  5. The current Polish politicans seem to have a very interesting interpretation of history. One Polish MEP interviewed in the wake of the Brexit vote angrily declared that the Poles wouldn’t come to Britains aid again like they had in the second world war!. If that is the current state of delusion then nothing would surprise me.

    The interwar Polish state from the mid twenties up to the war was an unpleasant authoritarian nationalistic regime not far short of a military dictatorship under Pilsudski and later Beck. Anti-Semitism was certainly rising in the lead up to the war so some level of collaboration in the treatment of the Jews was inevitable. I note that Poland also always seems to get a free pass on it’s opportunistic annexation of part of Czechoslovakia during the Sudeten crisis.

    Personally I don’t really understand the big deal of trying to sugar coat your countries past but then I’m not a nationalist.

  6. I think we can safely say that without widespread collaboration from non-Germans the murder of 6 million Jews and millions of others in just 4 years would not have been possible. Before the Second World War Antisemitism in Poland had been rising and some Polish Politicians advocated the mass emigration of Poland’s population. Individuals and agencies like the Polish Police force were complicit in helping the Nazis capture and round up Jews. Some Poles carried out their own pogroms and murdered their Jewish Neighbours

    Of course there were some who tried to help and it must be remembered that at least 2.5 million non-Jewish Poles perished also. I have read the Polish Government in exile based in London helped to save a few thousand Jews and the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Israel has recognised more rescuers from Poland than any other country 6,532

    So yes there is an attempt here to rewrite and gloss over Polish History and how ever painful the facts must be heard and attempts to whitewash and gloss over historical facts must be thwarted if the term Never Again is to have any real meaning. The Millions who were murdered and their relatives deserve that History tells their true story warts and all.

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