Poland’s New Holocaust Law: Should We Worry?

Just recently, Poland passed a law which states that anyone who implies or mentions that Poland was complicit with Germany in executing the Holocaust can be jailed.  Andrzej Duda, the President of Poland, put the law into effect before it was assessed by the country’s Constitutional Tribunal.  The law states that anyone who “publicly and against the facts attributes responsibility or co-responsibility for crimes perpetrated by the Third German Reich to the Polish nation or the Polish state” will face prosecution, according to the Financial Times.  It further bans the use of terms such as “Polish death camps” in relation to Auschwitz and other Polish concentration camps.  Punishments for this new law range from fines to up to 3 years imprisonment.

Poland’s chief Rabbi says there is a lack of clarity surrounding the law, mentioning “The way the law was written and presented failed to meet its goal and that’s something we are going to have to work on.”  He further mentions, “One of the most horrible places on the earth Auschwitz — you can understand it that if you didn’t do it and are being blamed for it.  That’s upsetting.  So I understand that.  However, the way the law has been written, the way it had been explained to the public, was done clearly in an insufficient manner.”  Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Bartosz Cichocki concurs with this statement, outlining that the law is intended to contain those who claim Poland was in any part responsible for the actions of Nazi Germany, and not to taint history.  This has been met with mixed responses, especially in the international community.  Human Rights Watch mentioned that there is worry that the government may be able to use this law to re-write history.  They went on to mention that rather than criminalizing the discussion of this issue, the government should instead allow for public debate to ensue.  This would allow facts to be presented without fear.

No matter the meaning, this law puts into perspective the ease of damaging history and altering the narrative.  With the persecution and animosity that is present in the current climate, one must keep in mind the tragedies that can erupt from such hatred.  Not only this, but those Polish citizens who were wrongfully treated due to their religion and moved into ghettos and death camps should be rightfully remembered.  Many European countries who were involved in the Second World War pay tribute to those who lost their lives.  Without remembering or honouring those who died, what will stop this from happening again?

The hope is that the government, international actors, and the Jewish community converse more jointly and the law allows the appropriate parties to take responsibility for any amount of involvement during that time.  In addition, the hope is that Poland holds the historical memory of what happened tightly for the sake of the groups persecuted and the families of those who survived.

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