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Mar 4, 2024

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“No Polish Death Camps” Law Revoked?

Censorship, Rewriting History and Whitewashing – Critics Charge

By Robert Strybel
Warsaw Correspondent

WARSAW–The 73rd  anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz would have been a routine annual commemoration but turned into a Judeo-Polish row following impromptu remarks by Israel’s ambassador to Poland Anna Azari. She criticized an amendment recently passed by Poland’s parliament which makes it an offense punishable by up to three years in prison for using such terms as “Polish death camp” and called on the Polish authorities to withdraw it.    

In recent decades, Poland and Polonia have campaigned around the globe to eliminate such misleading terms as “Polish death or concentration camp” in reference to the annihilation facilities built and operated in occupied Poland by Germans. Some world media outlets have been accommodating and began calling the death camps “Nazi German” rather than Polish. But those distortions have continued to crop up, prompting parliament to amend the law governing Poland’s Institute of National Remembrance which researches and prosecutes crimes against the Polish nation.

Critics of the amendment have called it an attempt to rewrite history, whitewash Polish involvement in the Holocaust and suppress free speech, and the world media soon turned the incident into an international issue. “Amongst the Polish people there were those who aided the Nazis in their crimes. Every crime, every offense, must be condemned. They must be examined and revealed,” Israeli President Reuven Rivlin was quoted a saying. “Poland’s new law is especially objectionable as it stifles any real confrontation with the most chilling aspect of the country’s wartime history – the extent to which local Poles were complicit in the destruction of their Jewish neighbors.”

Yes, there were Polish szmalcownicy who blackmailed Jews in hiding and the Poles assisting them. There were also Polish informers in the pay of the Gestapo and even cases of local Polish toughs who took part in such atrocities as Jedwabne and Kielce. Although war brutalizes everyone, somehow the amendment’s critics have overlooked perhaps an even more “chilling” aspect of that reign of horror – Jewish collaborators who facilitated the Holocaust.

German-controlled Jewish Councils (Judenräte) aidsed the Nazis by obediently providing them with address lists of local Jews who could then be easily pulled out of bed and herded into Auschwitz-bound cattle cars. The Jewish Ghetto Police brutally beat, manhandled and robbed fellow-Jews to please their German overlords. And there were also Jewish kapos (trusties) who did the dirty work for the SS by manning the crematoria or otherwise disposing of the corpses.

Historical truth requires the full spectrum of people and events to be impartially researched and presented. The contested amendment to Poland’s National Remembrance Institute legislation prohibits only unsubstantiated, sweeping generalizations that “ascribe the crimes of Nazi Germany to the Polish nation or the Polish state.” It does not introduce censorship nor prohibit the study of all aspects of the Holocaust, not excluding individual wrongdoing regardless of the nationality of the wrongdoer.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who has repeatedly said there is “no room in Poland for communism, Nazism, fascism, racism or anti-Semitism”, without delay was on the phone to his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu to sort out the issue. So far, the conservative Law and Justice government has prided itself in its good relations with Poland’s Jewish community as well as the State of Israel, and Morawiecki obviously aims to keep it that way. At his latest cabinet meeting, he ordered the government to establish a  special task force for historical dialogue with the Israeli side.