Poland, the Holocaust, and the Fight for Historical Truth

July 10 2018

At the end of June, Poland revised its controversial law that criminalized “publicly and untruthfully assign[ing] responsibility or co-responsibility to the Polish nation or the Polish state for Nazi crimes.” Thanks to the revision, violators would no longer be subject to prison terms—yet the law remains on the books. Arch Puddington argues that this piece of legislation closely resembles the totalitarian habit of trying to rewrite the past, which is still practiced today by Russia and China:

According to officials of [Poland’s ruling Law and Justice, or PiS, party], the law was made necessary by what they suggested were widespread references to “Polish death camps” a phrase that placed blame on Poles for Nazi atrocities. To describe this justification as disingenuous is an understatement. The phrase, “Polish death camps,” is inaccurate. But the phrase usually refers to Nazi camps located in Poland, like Auschwitz. Poles are not being stigmatized for the crimes of Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, and Reinhard Heydrich.

Poland has been the victim during a number of Europe’s darkest chapters. But serious historians have generally treated Poland with sympathy and admiration, sympathy for its suffering and admiration for its heroism in the face of oppression, including resistance to the Nazis [and] rebellion against Soviet domination. . . .

The comments of PiS officials suggest that the real issue is not Polish death-camp references but historical writings that attempt to deal honestly with the complex relationships among Christian Poles, Jewish Poles, Nazis, and Soviets during the war period. To point to the role of Christian Poles in crimes against Jews clashes with a PiS nationalist story that seeks to minimize the role of non-Catholic Poles in the nation’s history. A similar phenomenon is under way in Hungary, where Prime Minister Viktor Orban has advanced a semi-official version of the country’s history that downplays such details as Hungary’s wartime alliance with Germany and the actions of the Arrow Cross, a fascist group, and the historical significance of the country’s Jewish population. . . .

In championing the death-camps law, the PiS government is ironically joining with [its] arch-enemy Russia [in embracing] historical revisionism. Indeed, the comments of PiS officials often echo those of Vladimir Putin and his acolytes. In both countries, there are comments to the effect that demands for a reinterpretation of history is evidence of a society “getting up off its knees.” There are also claims that the redefinition of history through state action is strengthening sovereignty. In fact, all the evidence tells us that regimes that demand mangled versions of history actually surrender a measure of sovereignty by ensuring that those who write honest accounts will be scholars from beyond the country’s borders.

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More about: Freedom of Speech, History & Ideas, Holocaust, Poland, Vladimir Putin

Syria’s Downing of a Russian Plane Put Israel in the Crosshairs

Sept. 21 2018

On Monday, Israeli jets fired missiles at an Iranian munitions storehouse in the northwestern Syrian city of Latakia. Shortly thereafter, Syrian personnel shot down a Russian surveillance plane with surface-to-air missiles, in what seems to be a botched and highly incompetent response to the Israeli attack. Moscow first responded by blaming Jerusalem for the incident, but President Putin then offered more conciliatory statements. Yesterday, Russian diplomats again stated that Israel was at fault. Yoav Limor comments:

What was unusual [about the Israeli] strike was the location: Latakia [is] close to Russian forces, in an area where the IDF hasn’t been active for some time. The strike itself was routine; the IDF notified the Russian military about it in advance, the missiles were fired remotely, the Israeli F-16s returned to base unharmed, and as usual, Syrian antiaircraft missiles were fired indiscriminately in every direction, long after the strike itself was over. . . .

Theoretically, this is a matter between Russia and Syria. Russia supplied Syria with the SA-5 [missile] batteries that wound up shooting down its plane, and now it must demand explanations from Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. That won’t happen; Russia was quick to blame Israel for knocking over the first domino, and as usual, sent conflicting messages that make it hard to parse its future strategy. . . .

From now on, Russia will [almost certainly] demand a higher level of coordination with Israel and limits on the areas in which Israel can attack, and possibly a commitment to refrain from certain actions. Syria, Iran, and Hizballah will try to drag Russia into “handling” Israel and keeping it from continuing to carry out strikes in the region. Israel . . . will blame Iran, Hizballah, and Syria for the incident, and say they are responsible for the mess.

But Israel needs to take rapid action to minimize damage. It is in Israel’s strategic interest to keep up its offensive actions to the north, mainly in Syria. If that action is curtailed, Israel’s national security will be compromised. . . . No one in Israel, and certainly not in the IDF or the Israel Air Force, wants Russia—which until now hasn’t cared much about Israel’s actions—to turn hostile, and Israel needs to do everything to prevent that from happening. Even if that means limiting its actions for the time being. . . . Still, make no mistake: Russia is angry and has to explain its actions to its people. Israel will need to walk a thin line between protecting its own security interests and avoiding a very unwanted clash with Russia.

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More about: Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Russia, Syrian civil war