Saturday, February 10, 2018

Poland passes bewildering WW2 legislation

In between shovelling an apparently endless succession of snowfalls, I have been trying to get my head around the controversial legislation passed recently in Poland which effectively bans the use of the phrase "Polish death camps" and makes it illegal to even suggest that Poland bore any responsibility for the Nazi atrocities during World War II. I particularly feel the need to figure it out after spending an evening with a Canadian-Polish friend who was absolutely fierce in her defence of the dear home country.
Just to back up a little, Poland had a shitty Second World War: three million Polish Jews died at the hands of the German Nazis - almost half of all the Jews who were killed during the Holocaust - as well as another three million non-Jews. Poland was known to be a particular hate of Hitler's, who vowed to destroy the entire Polish state and to enslave its people. It is no coincidence tbat the Nazis built some of their largest and most notorious concentration camps (think Auschwitz, Birkenau, Treblinka) in Poland.
And that is part of what Poland is trying to address with this latest legislation. What I don't understand, though, is, even if it can be true that people interpret the phrase "Polish death camps" to mean death camps run by the Polish government rather than German Nazi death camps (which I find really difficult to believe, although our Canadian-Polish friend insists that this is a real and pressing problem), what is the point of passing a law about it in Poland? Because it is presumably not Poles who get confused.
As for the other part of the new law, many historians are arguing that passing a law making it illegal to accuse the Polish government of complicity in the Holocaust or any other Nazi atrocity is effectively an attempt at whitewashing the role of Poles in the war. Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has compared the new law as de facto Holocaust denial, but you can always trust the Israelis (and Netanyahu in particular) to go over the top in these matters.
Now, while it is true that the Polish government never had a policy of appeasement or collaboration like France or Norway, there certainly were examples of Polish some towns and cities (notably Jedwabne and Kielce) taking part in Nazi anti-Jew pogroms, and various betrayals of Jews by Polish individuals, even if I am sure that our friend would never admit to that. And, once again, why pass a law like that in Poland unless Poles themselves are routinely in thr habit of accusing their government of war crimes from 60 years ago, which I find unlikely. Such a law does not constrain Israelis or anyone else outside of Poland, so what exactly is its function?
Anyway, I don't want to belabour the point, but I just feel that the whole law is just another example of the curbing of the media and judicial independence that the current populist government has been frequently accused of. This kind of government censorship is never to be encouraged.

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