Two weeks ago Poland’s Senate body ratified a bill prohibiting any Holocaust-related accusations against Polish people, as well as describing Nazi camps as Polish(1).
This law has banned any language that accuses any Polish citizens as complicit in any crimes during World War II on Polish soil; this includes the infamous death camp Auschwitz where more than a million people died, as well as any of the other concentration camps(2). The penalty for speaking out ranges from fines to up to three years in jail(3).
Michaela Stiel is a Jewish student at Stony Brook. She grew up in Germany and is very familiar with the culture.
“I grew up in Germany, a country in which you are legally not allowed to deny the Holocaust,” Stiel said.“I think that is a good example of a country owning up to their mistakes and trying to rectify it”
According to the Polish president, Andrzej Duda, the reasoning behind this controversial bill is that Poland and its people were not complicit in the death camps, and many Poles were victims themselves. However, the process of banning certain speech has raised a glaring red flag for many.
“The new Polish laws does nothing less than deny the holocaust. By denying their involvement it is an injustice to all the people who suffered during this time and those who fought to end it. It’s important to learn from history, not try and hide it what Poland is doing is not only wrong but factually incorrect,” said Stiel
This law is also facing criticism from the European Union for the current Polish government strong-arming courts and media and the recent revelation of Polish neo-Nazis celebrating Hitler’s Birthday and calling him a “gentleman”(4).
The Atlantic interviewed Pawel Machcewicz, a historian, and museum director. “I wouldn’t say this is a completely planned and calculated action, it’s more a reflection of a complete self-isolation and lack of understanding of other countries,” Machcewicz said.
Teaching the history of WWII and the Holocaust in public schools in Poland tends to be idiosyncratic and focus more on Polish suffering rather than the target victims of the Nazis(5). Even now, many Polish citizens will answer the question of “Who suffered more during WWII under German occupation, Polish people or Jewish people?” with “Polish people”(2).
Polish officials have stated that the law won’t affect research, scholarly discussion, and art and that they are willing to cooperate with Israeli and Jewish lawmakers to ensure that the law doesn’t infringe on the rights of survivors of war crimes to feel free to tell their stories without fear(3).
For many, this law is more than a danger to freedom of speech.
“Poland in just two years became an absolutely isolated country in the Western world and it’s extremely disturbing, taking into account the growing Russian aggressiveness, so this is not only about history, this is also about Polish independence and Polish security. I find it very deeply disturbing.” Machcewicz said.