In January, the Polish government passed a law making it a crime for anyone to “accuse, publicly and against the facts, the Polish nation, or the Polish state, of being responsible or complicit in the Nazi crimes committed by the Third German Reich.” Even prior to the passage of this law, Warsaw had initiated a libel probe against Jan Gross, a Polish-American historian who has written extensively on the participation of Poles in the murder of Jews during and immediately after World War II. Gross comments on the current situation:
[A]lthough the Poles are deservedly proud of their heroic anti-Nazi resistance during World War II, it is also demonstrably true that during the war Poles killed more of their Jewish fellow citizens than they killed occupying Germans. Of course, there were many Poles who helped Jews during the war. Indeed, there are more Poles listed among Yad Vashem’s “Righteous Gentiles” than citizens of any other nation, which is not surprising given that half of the six million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust were from Poland. But these individuals typically acted on their own, against prevailing social norms. Strikingly, even after the war, many insisted on keeping their wartime heroism a secret from their neighbors. . . .
Although the new law specifically excludes those acting “within the framework of artistic or scientific activity,” in fact it aims to have a chilling effect on art, scholarship, and honest discussion more generally. In particular, it aims to muzzle the extraordinarily rich and honest Polish historiography of the Holocaust produced over the last twenty years, which has provided the record of Poles’ complicity in the persecution of their Jewish fellow citizens. . . .
Under the pretense of defending Poland’s dignity and freedom to act as a sovereign country, the regime has played to the worst xenophobic and anti-Semitic prejudices of the public. Public television controlled by the [ruling] Law and Justice Party stirs populist outrage by repeating that outside forces, and Jews in particular, want to prevent Poland from telling the truth about its own history, that extermination camps were set up and run by the Germans and not by the Poles—a fact no one denies. Not surprisingly, one can see the rise of anti-Semitic feeling throughout social media, in television, and in the pro-government press.