Poland: Revisionism Triumphs Over Accuracy
Daniel Tilles, assistant professor of history at the Pedagogical University of Cracow, writing in Notes from Poland explains that Poland’s “controversial memory law is still in place, the Polish government’s historical narrative is stronger than ever, and Israel and the US appear to have accepted it.”
The law in question was enacted in 2018 on the day before international Holocaust Remembrance Day. It made the false attribution of German crimes to the Polish nation or state a criminal offense. This led to firm objections to the Polish law from Israel and the United States. They argued that the law was detrimental to free and open genocide research. Other people asserted that the law whitewashes Polish complicity in the Holocaust. Polish antisemitism predated Germany’s invasion and occupation of Poland in WWII:
By the time of the German invasion in 1939, antisemitism was escalating, and hostility towards Jews was a mainstay of the right-wing political forces . . .
On June 27, 2018, Israel, under the leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, relented and reached an agreement with the Polish government on this issue. Poland agreed to amend the law to make violations civil rather than criminal offenses and Israel agreed to a joint declaration recognizing the “heroic acts of numerous Poles” as well as “systematic help and support to Jewish people” from “structures of the Polish underground State supervised by the Polish Government-in-Exile.”
On July 5, 2018, Yad Vashem, the Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Center, denounced the joint declaration explaining that a:
thorough review by Yad Vashem historians shows that the historical assertions, presented as unchallenged facts, in the joint statement contain grave errors and deceptions, and that the essence of the statute remains unchanged even after the repeal of the aforementioned sections, including the possibility of real harm to researchers, unimpeded research, and the historical memory of the Holocaust.
Professor Tilles confirms this explaining that the amendment to the Polish law did not make a big difference:
The law remains on the books and can still be used against those who challenge the official Polish version of history. They no longer face potential imprisonment, but can be dragged into lengthy, expensive court cases with the possibility of a large fine at the end.
Netanyahu has opted for political expediency over historical accuracy concerning the fate of Poland’s Jews. He wants the support of Poland in other areas. Professor Tilles accurately concludes:
Realpolitik has thus trumped concern over historical memory. One year on from the start of the ‘Holocaust law’ dispute, Poland’s government has emerged with its domestic reputation as the guardian of Polish history enhanced and its international position as strong, if not stronger, than before.
I am gratified that Yad Vashem spoke up so strongly. Approximately three million Jews—90% of Poland’s Jewish population—were murdered in Poland. Yes, some Poles helped. But others were did the opposite.
The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum explains that in “July 1941, Polish residents of Jedwabne, a small town located in then German-occupied Poland, participated in the murder of hundreds of their Jewish neighbors.” Yad Vashem historians have concluded that the “latest research has shown that at least tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of Polish Jews perished during the war due to actions of their Polish neighbors.”
Historical accuracy is vital to memory of those who perished.