Polish Senator Says Holocaust Law Also Applies To Holocaust Survivors
Poland's new Holocaust legislation just keeps sounding worse and worse.
One of the sponsors of the recently signed Polish law forbidding people from linking Poland to the Holocaust is saying that even Holocaust survivors should consider themselves covered by the law:
One of the leading advocates of the widely-criticized World War II remembrance legislation approved by Poland’s president last week has warned that Holocaust survivors could find themselves on the wrong side of Polish law from now on.
Sen. Jan Zaryn, a professor of history who represents the ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) Party, was asked in an interview for the current edition of the Wprost weekly newsmagazine whether the new law “can be used to prosecute Holocaust survivors, as the Israeli Ambassador (in Warsaw, Anna Azari) alleges.”
Zaryn answered: “If a Holocaust survivor falsifies Polish history, lies and says there were Polish concentration camps during World War II, then his status as a survivor is irrelevant in the context of the lie.”
In addition to proscribing the term “Polish concentration camps” – a form of words which the vast majority of Jewish scholars have long agreed is an unfair, careless representation of Nazi Germany’s extermination program in Poland – the law prohibits any public discussion of Polish collusion with Nazi authorities during the war.
This includes events such as the 1941 pogrom in the village of Jedwabne, in which 1,600 Jews, according to the Polish-American historian Jan Gross, were murdered by their Polish neighbors with the approval of the Nazi authorities. (Gross’s numbers have been the subject of dispute; a 2003 Polish investigation concluded that no more than 340 Jews were murdered in Jedwabne, but agreed that their killers were Poles “inspired by the Germans.”)Sen. Zaryn’s caution that even Holocaust survivors are not exempt from the legislation – which targets “Whoever claims, publicly and contrary to the facts, that the Polish Nation or the Republic of Poland is responsible or co-responsible for Nazi crimes committed by the Third Reich … or for other felonies that constitute crimes against peace, crimes against humanity, or war crimes” – came as Michał Dworczyk, the head of the Polish Prime Minister’s office, issued guidelines to government ministries on how to discuss the new law. According to Polish media outlets, the guidelines include instructions to deny any collusion between Poles and the Nazi authorities, along with quotes supporting this case culled from the remarks of Jewish representatives speaking during the war.
On the issue of the Jedwabne pogrom specifically, representatives have been told to respond that “cases of pogroms against Jews occurred throughout the whole of Europe occupied by the Third Reich.”
The bill that the Senator is referring to here is, of course, the one that I have made note of before which was recently signed into law by Poland’s President which makes it a crime to attempt to make any connection between the Holocaust and either the nation of Poland or the Polish people. In theory at least, the law purports to apply to everyone in the world, meaning that Poland could seek to charge even an American citizen who it believes has violated the law, although the odds that the United States would consent to extradition in such a case seems unlikely. In some sense, the law is rooted in the historically correct fact that the mass-murder that claimed the lives of six million Jews as well as up to six million members of other groups that included Gypsies, homosexuals, Slavic people regardless of religious background, and those who rebelled against or dissented from Nazi rule in Germany, Poland, and across Central and Eastern Europe was primarily planned and carried out by German Nazis.
It’s also undisputed that those parts of the government of pre-war Poland that managed to escape after the twin Nazi/Soviet invasions of 1939 formed a government in exile and worked alongside the British, French, and eventually, Americans to defeat the Nazis and reclaim their homeland. This included the famed 303rd Polish Fighter Squadron, a group of Polish airmen who assisted the British during the Battle of Britain and in other operations Finally, it’s also true that Poland came out of the war having paid a very high price due to the invasions and occupations by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union as well as the battles that took place on Polish territory when the front passed through there not just once, but twice. Indeed, it wasn’t until Soviet dominance ended beginning in the 1980s with the rise of Solidarity that Poland began to shake off the impact that six years of war and occupation. Given all of this, I can understand on some level why Poles would be upset by interpretations of history that sought to tie their nation to the Holocaust.
It’s also true, however, that there were far too many Poles who, acting on their own, actively collaborated with the Nazi occupiers not only in the operation of what effectively served as the government of Nazi-occupied Poland but also in rounding up Jews and others for transportation to the camps. In most cases, of course, that collaboration was done sheerly out of a need to survive, but as someone of Polish heritage myself, I can also acknowledge that Poland was also fertile ground for the anti-Semitism that pervaded Nazi ideology and that this explains at least some of the collaboration. Pogroms against Jews were not uncommon long before the Nazis came along. During the war itself, nearly 2,000 Jews died in a pogrom in Jedwabne that was carried out by Poles. Because of this, it wasn’t hard for the Nazis to find Poles willing to help them, even when they knew exactly what was going on. Charging people with a crime for even discussing these events is not only bad history, but it does a disservice to Polish heritage itself by failing to acknowledge the truth.
Taking all that into account, the remarks by this Polish Senator are particularly disturbing. The idea that Holocaust survivors and those with a living memory of what happened in Poland during the war, a population that grows smaller every year as people pass away, is not only insane in and of itself but it points out just how misguided this law actually is. Essentially what he’s saying is that the people who were the victims of the Holocaust, and their families, could be punished simply for talking about what they experienced. That’s not only exceptionally stupid, it’s criminal.