A bill recently passed by Poland’s legislature forbids the use of the term “Polish death camps” to refer to the extermination camps established by the Nazis within the country’s borders, and more vaguely forbids any assignation of guilt for the Holocaust to “the Polish nation or the Polish state.” Putting the law in the context of recent East European history, Ben Cohen points to the corrupt impulse behind it:
[I]n the nations that were until 1989 under the boot of the Soviet Union, like Poland, . . . “Holocaust education” for decades consisted of lies, distortions, and shameful cover-ups. It began with the Soviets [themselves], for whom there was no ideological or political room for something called the “Holocaust” in their account of the “Great Patriotic War,” [as they called World War II]. . . .
But just as the Communists sought to undermine this core truth at every turn, so do today’s ultranationalists. It’s not just Poland, after all. Croatia, Hungary, Slovakia, and Latvia are just a handful of the other European countries where similarly ugly disputes have arisen, always involving ultranationalist political leaders promoting the deceitful rewriting of history. In all these cases, the end has been the same: to portray the occupied non-Jewish populations as facing exactly the same trials and perils as their Jewish neighbors, and thereby to launder their own soiled records of past Nazi associations. . . .
If the Polish government’s goal were simply to encourage greater awareness and education about Polish suffering under the Nazis, that would be laudable. But by tying that aspect of Nazi rule so explicitly to the mass enslavement and extermination of the Jews, and by willfully misrepresenting documented evidence of Polish anti-Semitism and collaboration with the Nazis as a slander upon the Polish nation as a whole, they are engineering their own deserved failure, to the detriment of Poland’s people.
Instead of enlightening the world about how the Soviets and the Nazis collaborated to crush the Polish national movement—and why that matters especially today—Poland’s leaders are disgracing themselves by uncomplicatedly assigning three million Holocaust victims murdered because they were Jews to the general record of Polish wartime suffering. You’d have thought that the Soviet Union was the last country they would want to emulate.