And the saga continues. Back in January, Poland passed a law that criminalized placing any blame for the Holocaust with the Polish nation or Polish citizens. Naturally, there was severe public backlash, as many people rightly noticed that this law seemed more likely to silence survivors and historians than to protect Poland’s reputation, which truly plummeted following the law’s announcement. In June after the protest of many organizations and just one day after the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, a non-profit non-governmental organization, filed an amicus brief with the Polish Constitution Court pointing out the many illegalities of this law, Poland’s leaders removed the criminalization aspect.
So, the good news is that you won’t be sent to prison for correctly stating that there were Polish citizens who colluded with the Nazis. The bad news though is that you can still be sued for damages for daring to speak the truth about Poland’s history. You can even be sued by Poland’s Institute of National Remembrance.
This flies in the face of freedom of speech, something that is sanctified in Poland’s Constitution. Of course, the IAJLJ, which was instrumental in getting the threat of jail off the table, is now working to ensure this scaled-back law cannot impede Holocaust research or discussion. On Sept. 4, the IAJLJ requested that Poland’s prime minister and minister of justice create official guidelines for Polish courts to ensure this law is not abused.
As the law stands now it is an insult to survivors and their families, who can now face being dragged into court for their own memories and their own family history. Sadly, many survivors — though that number does dwindle daily — have horrific stories of their treatment in concentration camps. The camps, run by the Nazis in occupied Poland, were factories of death and despair. And some concentration camp employees were Polish citizens who did collude with the Nazis. There were Polish citizens who gladly turned over their Jewish neighbors to the Nazis, those who killed their Jewish neighbors and those who merely willfully turned a blind eye.
To prevent the discussion of these facts is an sad attempt to rewrite history and silence the past.
And these facts do not negate the other facts that the Polish government fears are often overlooked. It is also a fact that the Nazis killed millions of non-Jewish Polish citizens in the concentration camps. It is a fact that while the Nazis were running concentration camps like Auschwitz in Poland, Poland was an occupied nation with its government in exile.
It is also a fact that there were hundreds of Polish citizens who risked everything they had — including the lives of themselves and their families — to save Jews. For every story of a Polish citizen being cruel to Jews during the Holocaust, there is a story of a Polish citizen feeding a hungry Jew, hiding a hunted Jew, rescuing a Jewish child and so much more. There were Polish citizens who made the ultimate sacrifice to save their Jewish neighbors.
To try to rewrite and omit the darker parts of history dishonors those who died, those who were heroes and those who have survived to tell their tales.
Thankfully, the IAJLJ feels the same way and is guided by morality and legal principals. Since 1969, the multinational organization and its members have acted on the world stage to fight anti-Semitism, racism, Holocaust denial, xenophobia and unfair condemnations of Israel.
Hopefully, we will soon add to IAJLJ’s list of triumphs that Poland codified a guideline for its courts to ensure Holocaust survivors and researchers are not targeted and silenced in any way.