Maddie Schumann
Maddie Schumann

How Poland’s Holocaust law infringes free expression

Poland's President Andrzej Duda walks along with survivors through the gates of the Auschwitz Nazi concentration camp in Oswiecim, Poland,  .(AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski) Via Jewish News
Poland's President Andrzej Duda walks along with survivors through the gates of the Auschwitz Nazi concentration camp in Oswiecim, Poland, .(AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski) Via Jewish News

Poland with the highest number of Righteous Amongst the Nations, simultaneously had high number of Nazi collaborators, however under a 2018 Holocaust Law amendment, it is now illegal for anyone to mention about complicity of the Polish nation committing Holocaust crimes.

A dark consequence has resulted in first fruit where an individual used the ‘’new Holocaust Law’’ to sue two Polish academics: Barbara Engelking and Jan Grabowski, co-editors of ‘’Night Without End: The Fates of Jews in Selected Counties of Occupied Poland’’ The ruling was made in February 2021 when a district Judge convicted the academics for ‘’violating the honour’’ of a Polish man who was a wartime Mayor in a village. The Claimant was the Mayor’s niece. The Mayor was describes as a man who robbed a Jewish lady in a testimony of the victim. The testimony clearly states that the Mayor, Mr Malinowski, collaborated with the Nazis. Yet, this new amendment is criminialising victims of the Holocaust in the name of ‘’honour’’ of the Nazi collaborators. The District Judge ordered both academics to publicly apologise to Nazi collaborator’s niece.

To describe a ‘’hurtful feeling of identity and national pride’’ in the Order against the two academics is despicable to say the least. For some, a public apology may seem a soft verdict, nevertheless is extremely offensive to the testimony of a true victim of history. This is no different than criminalising a victim and glorifying a perpetrator.

This law unjustifiably infringes freedom of expression, preventing open discussion about Polish collaboration with Germans during WW2.

The new amendment correctly prohibits referring to the camps as Polish camps, as they were Nazi camps on Polish soil. These were solely set up by the Germans. However, this does not take away responsibility from Polish, Russian and Ukrainian collaborators living on Polish soil and assisting the Nazis in the Final Solution!

President Duda said: ’’We have a right to our historical truth’’ the absurdity of the freedom of speech is that, in theory, he has this right. Though, this does not mean we have to accept his revisionism and lies. We are not talking about one or a few testimonies but thousands of victims testifying that the Polish Catholics were on many occasions collaborators who equally hated the Jews, Gypsies, Witnesses of Jehovah’s and others.

In a bizarre contradiction, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Law and Justice Party Leader said:

‘’We don’t have any intention to prosecute someone who says that somewhere a single Jew or a family were murdered. Such events took place and we never denied this’’

So, if correct, this makes the amendment even more outrageous, as intentions are deliberate to downplay the historical facts involving the Poles. This must not be allowed.

The EU has threatened Poland with sanctions, and Poland currently has one of the highest scores across the EU to have formal notices and sanctions from Brussels for multiple breaches, including hate speech – not forgetting that Holocaust denial and hate speech go hand in hand.

Also, upon pressure from the USA to downgrade USA–Poland relations, the Polish government swiftly removed possible criminal court prosecutions but leaving charges in the civil court. So, a revisionist law may be broken by international parties if it is not possible to prevent a full amendment. The current Polish government is happy to pay the price for such a U-turn and be a “persona non grata” on the international stage. Therefore, collective action to silence fake freedom of speech can work, though not perfect, at least criminal charges cannot be brought against academics.

Holocaust remembrance is irrelevant if we cannot secure the future ethos of Never Again. We should safeguard legislation from historical revisionism to preserve our future. But this also must be reflected in education.

If teachers are allowed to voice their own political and historical agendas, we risk future generations digesting lies and believing them. It was interesting and shameful that only last week Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson had to remind headteachers that they must be neutral and not voice their own political opinions on the Israel/Palestine conflict. This is a clear example that in this country freedom of speech is a paradox and a knock-on effect of it is that it is easy for a teacher/professor to teach untruths and influence youngsters with personal views. It is shameful that they forget that a good educator is always neutral and teaches facts not personal interpretations.

 

About the Author
Maddie is a Sociologist with a law degree, and a legal translation professional speaking many languages with an interest in international law and politics.
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