As someone who traveled to Poland this past December with the sole intent of furthering my Holocaust education, the news about the nation’s government criminalizing any claims of their complicity enrages and disgusts me.
Before diving further into the specific issue at hand, I want to note that I am currently deep into a large-scale gonzo journalism project on my Living Links experience as a whole. I plan on expanding upon this very situation, and its sheer absurdity in the wake of what I saw, within that piece. However, I feel the issue is simply too important to not discuss in some capacity while it’s still floating in the news circuit.
For those not as unhealthily obsessed with Holocaust history and contemporary Holocaust study as me, I’ll quickly summarize the specifics of the Polish president’s spineless maneuver. President Duda approved a new law making it illegal (punishable by prison time) to simply say that Poland had any involvement in Nazi war crimes.
Essentially, the Polish government, in a cowardly attempt to alleviate their own guilt, is trying to replace fact with fiction. By punishing the account of a past that they aren’t quite proud of, they are beginning a campaign to rewrite their history.
It’s true that Poland was under German occupation throughout most of World War II. I’m not going to sit here and argue that the Poles were the primary perpetrators of the Holocaust; we all know that wasn’t the case. But to say that they had no involvement whatsoever is not only an insult to Polish survivors, but to those who perished within the nation’s borders.
When I’m standing in the square of a small Polish town, hearing recounts of Poles joining in on the Nazi slaughter of children, I’m not saying Poland was the primary perpetrator.
When I’m standing in the Majdanek death camp, directly in front of me a mountain of Jewish ashes, and only a mile or two out stands a bustling Polish city that stood in that same spot 80 years ago, I’m not saying Poland was the primary perpetrator.
When, after leaving a market filled to the brim with anti-Semitic caricatures of Jews and stolen pre-war Judaica, my friends and I get harassed (some beaten) by Poles simply for wearing Kippahs, I’m not saying Poland was the primary perpetrator.
What I am saying, President Duda, is that you can’t sit there and say your people had absolutely no involvement in the genocide of my people. You can’t sit there and rewrite history to redact your complicity. A thriving Jewish community was decimated within your borders, that is fact.
I can’t believe I’m writing these words, but, Poland, you should be more like Germany. Only two generations ago, the German government made it their mission to eradicate the Jews. Instead of criminalizing recounts of their guilt, they use it to teach. The Holocaust is an intrinsic component of the German education system. From a young age, German students are taught about the unforgivable crimes committed by their own grandparents. These lessons are only compounded upon as they move farther along in their public education. Germany is providing solid validity to the words “never again.”
Poland, here’s my advice to you. When you are berated by the international community for your decision, don’t resist. Don’t fight back; don’t defend your decision. Redact your law, start educating your youth. Learn.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” (George Santayana).
If you don’t listen, if you choose to forget, don’t worry. The Jews will always remember.