In Poland, local Gentiles’ collaboration with the Third Reich in the persecution of the Jews remains a highly sensitive subject as it disturbs a narrative—itself grounded in undeniable realities—of Poles’ terrible oppression by the Nazi and Soviet regimes during World War II. The desire to suppress the former story to promote the latter—particularly pronounced on the Polish political right, which has been in power for several years running—has once again led to controversy, as Ben Cohen writes:
[The] facts have been stretched and twisted by the government and its supporters to determine that Poland underwent the very same Holocaust that was inflicted upon the Jews. And since 2018, any historian who asserts “publicly” that “the Polish Nation or the Republic of Poland is responsible or co-responsible for Nazi crimes committed by the Third Reich” can become the subject of a civil lawsuit.
Two prominent Polish historians were subject to just such a lawsuit, which resulted in a judge ruling on Tuesday that they apologize for “tarnishing the memory” of a Polish villager in their recent book—while exempting them from a fine. But Cohen notes “an even more sinister development.”
[O]n Wednesday of last week, the editor of the website Jewish.pl—an indispensable source of news and features about Jewish life in Poland—was called in for questioning by police in her hometown to answer for an article she wrote last year about the Holocaust. An anonymous complaint to the public prosecutor against the journalist . . . accused her of violating Article 133 of the Polish constitution in her piece. That article states: “Whoever publicly insults the Nation or the Republic of Poland shall be subject to the penalty of deprivation of liberty for up to three years.”
We may be coming to a point where further discussion and debate with the Polish authorities becomes fruitless, and that will pose an uncomfortable challenge to the custodians of Holocaust memory. Poland was the epicenter of the Holocaust, and it’s impossible to imagine the process of memorialization without it—the land where the Germans [built] mass extermination camps like Auschwitz and Treblinka, and where Jewish resistance fighters in 1943 staged a historic armed uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto.