30 Jan 2018

Controversial Polish bill causes tension in diplomatic relations with Israel

According to the new legislation, Poles face up to 3 years in prison for falsely ascribing crimes against Jews during the II World War to the Polish nation or state. Israel fears that Holocaust survivors could now be punished for their testimonies.

Zuzanna Piechowicz
Zuzanna Piechowicz Tok FM, Poland
Source: Tok FM
Controversial Polish bill causes tension in
diplomatic relations with Israel - NewsMavens
Mateusz Morawiecki. Wikimeda Commons

Why this story matters:

The new bill is an amendment to the Act on the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN). The Ministry of Foreign Affairs claims that it is aimed at defending the image of Poland from mishaps such as  "Polish death camps", as opposed to "Nazi death camps", which from time to time recur in foreign media.

In an interview with Dominika Wielowieyska from TOK FM, prof. Aleksander Smolar claimed that the government is playing on the fears of many Poles who do not want to lose face in the eyes of other nations. An ironic assumption, when one considers how the Austrians or the French are preoccupied with the dangers of nationalism in their own countries. - Fear is one of the biggest assets of the ruling party (PiS). – he commented.

Israeli Ambassador in Poland, Anna Azari, appealed to change the adopted law on the grounds that it may hinder the testimonies of Holocaust survivors. Yet Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki sees no reason to do so. In a recent tweet he reminded the public that:

"In 2016, Poland and Israel issued a joint statement, in which they opposed any attempt to distort the history of Jewish or Polish people by denying or belittling Jewish victims during the Holocaust or by using incorrect terms like as ‘Polish death camps'”. 

What seems particularly alarming is the proposed punishment for whoever openly talks about crimes committed by Poles. Why? Take the notorious book “The Neighbors” by Jan Tomasz Gross, who described the tragic events of 1941, when, in Jedwabne village, several dozen Poles murdered over 300 Jews. Most of them were burned alive in a barn. 10 years ago, after the publication of the book, many “true Poles” wanted to see the author jailed. Soon, their dream could become reality.

We now face the danger of self-appointed online prosecutors reporting whatever they find to the courts. Also, if we forbid Poles from talking about the darkest times in their history, then good luck finding a decent Polish play or a film to go to.

politics, history, conflict

Details from the story:

  • According to the new law, anyone who "publically and falsely ascribes the crimes committed by the Third German Reich or other crimes against humanity, peace and war crimes, to the Polish nation or state" could be sentenced to three years in prison.
  • "There is no anti-Polish campaign abroad. Poland has gained popularity and prestige among other countries thanks to Solidarity and its successful transformation to market economy. The government is diminishing these successes, e.g. by destroying the reputation of the judicial system," prof. Aleksander Smolar told TOK FM.
  • In Yad Vashem's statement, we read, "There is no doubt that the term 'Polish death camps' is a historically erroneous statement. However, the introduction of restrictions on the research results of scientists and other people referring to the direct or indirect participation of Poles in the crimes committed on their lands during the Holocaust constitute a significant irregularity.
  • Yad Vashem will continue to support research aimed at revealing the complex truth regarding the attitude of the Polish population towards Jews during the Holocaust."
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