New Polish Speech Law Is A Gas Gas Gas
Poland's Senate has passed a bill that would make it illegal to blame Nazi crimes on Poles, and which could send someone to prison for up to three years for using phrases like "Polish death camps." Poland's rightwing government says it's merely trying to protect the historical record, because apparently a whole lot of Polish people are deeply aggrieved at accusations that Poles -- any Poles -- were complicit in the Holocaust, even though it's well-documented that the Nazis did indeed have Polish collaborators. Not surprisingly, the measure has set off a furor in Israel, where the law is seen as an attack on historical reality; several Israeli politicians warn Poland is on the verge of giving state approval to Holocaust denial. Similarly, US diplomats have protested the law's potential to limit free speech.
The law has been pushed by the rightwing "Law and Justice Party" that currently holds the majority, and which sees cracking down on insults to the good brave Polish people as somehow critical to the nation. Suggesting that Polish anti-Semitism might have played any role in the Holocaust makes them as sad as southern white Trump voters get when The Blacks keep going on about slavery. So hey, let's change history so anyone making too much noise about Polish collaboration with the Nazis can be sent to jail. Here's senior Law and Justice Party member Beata Szydło, a former prime minister, explaining how the law will put everything in its proper perspective:
We, the Poles, were victims, as were the Jews [...] It is a duty of every Pole to defend the good name of Poland.
Would you believe that a lot of critics say the law has less to do with protecting the heritage of the nice Polish people than with stirring up nationalist sentiment and reinforcing the Law and Justice Party's grip on power? Gosh, that's so cynical. And there's certainly nothing provocative about the bill's timing: It just happened to pass the lower house Friday, on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day. How about that for a coincidence, huh?
After the German invasion of Poland, the Nazis built their most notorious extermination camps in occupied Poland, including Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinka, Belzec, and Sobibor. Camps in Germany, like Dachau, had high death rates from disease and overwork, but were not purpose-built for mass extermination of Jews. The Nazis murdered approximately three million of Poland's prewar population of 3.2 million Jews in the camps, accounting for almost half of the six million killed during the Holocaust. The camps were also the final destination for Jews across occupied Europe. The US Holocaust Memorial Museum estimates the Nazis also killed 1.9 million non-Jewish Polish civilians during the occupation.
So yes, the phrase "Polish Death Camps" is inaccurate insofar as it suggests the Poles were running the things. A statement from Yad Vashem, Israel's official Holocaust remembrance center, noted that it is in fact inaccurate to refer to "Polish death camps," but argued -- as if this were really about history or terminology -- that the better approach to countering historical inaccuracy "is not by criminalising such statements but by reinforcing educational activities." The statement condemned the bill, saying it "is liable to blur the historical truths regarding the assistance the Germans received from the Polish population during the Holocaust."
The bill -- which Polish President Andrzej Duda supports -- includes an exemption for works of art and for scientific research, but even so, notes the Washington Post,
historians worry that the law would make it impossible to discuss the culpability of at least some Poles in Nazi crimes. It is still a matter of controversy, for instance, whether a 1941 atrocity by a group of Poles in the town of Jedwabne was carried out after pressure from the Nazis or whether the crimes occurred without German involvement.
The Polish right would far rather children learn the stories of brave Polish resistance fighters, who were indeed brave and did indeed resist. But just as American rightwingers would prefer AP History courses stop carping about America's little missteps like slavery, the genocide of Native Americans, or the internment of Japanese Americans during WW II, rightwing Poles think it's just awful that anyone would point too emphatically at Poles who collaborated with the Nazis.
Mind you, just as Confederate statues are about Heritage, not Hate, there isn't even the least smidge of anti-Semitism behind all this nationalism, although of course some nice Polish nationalists are now saying the international outrage at the bill proves just how badly it's needed, since the Jewish media are stirring up trouble. And then there's this interesting historical revisionism:
The director of the state-run television station TVP 2, Marcin Wolski, even went so far as to say Monday on air that the Nazi death camps should actually be called Jewish. "Who managed the crematoria there?" he asked — a reference to the fact that death camp prisoners, usually Jews, were forced as slave laborers to help dispose of gas chamber victims.
Another commentator on state-run radio, Piotr Nisztor, said any Pole opposing the law was obviously a "spokesman for Israeli interests" who "should think about giving up their Polish citizenship and accepting Israeli citizenship."
Yup, this is all about protecting the reputation of brave Poles who fought the Nazis, that's all.
Maybe we could ship them some second-hand statues of Jefferson Davis.