by: Abigail Gilbert, BFP Staff Writer
For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.”—Elie Wiesel
In January 2018, Poland passed a controversial bill making it a crime to blame Poland for the atrocities of the Holocaust. The bill, proposed by the country’s ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS), calls for up to three years in prison or a fine for accusing the Polish state or people of responsibility for the Nazi occupation during the Second World War. While the heated debate over the law raised legitimate concerns held by the Polish people, it also uncovered an ugly undercurrent of anti-Semitism within the small country.
An Offensive Name
Poles have for decades been rightly offended by the term “Polish Death Camps,” a misleading phrase that places responsibility for the crimes of Nazi Germany on the shoulders of Poland. Proponents of the bill point out that while three million Polish Jews were killed in death camps in Poland, 1.9 million non-Jewish Polish civilians also lost their lives, many dying in the 1940 AB-Aktion operation when the Germans shot thousands of teachers, priests and other intellectuals in mass killings in and around Warsaw.
Israel and Germany have both come forward to denounce the term “Polish Death Camps,” calling it a “misrepresentation” of what happened in the war-torn country during the Nazi occupation. They recognize that many of the “Righteous Among the Nations” were Poles who sacrificed to fight back against the evil happening in their own backyard.
The new legislation, however, doesn’t simply target the phrase “Polish Death Camps.” It broadly condemns holding the Polish people responsible for crimes committed against the Jews, a move that world leaders and Jewish voices around the globe say risks whitewashing the true history of the Jews in Poland. While there was a resistance to the Nazi invasion and brave acts of heroism from some Polish people, there was also a significant amount of “turning a blind eye” and in some cases, as documented by the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, communities helped the Germans hunt down and kill Jews.
SOURCE: Bridges for Peace