The consequences of Poland's Holocaust law

Poland's controversial "Holocaust law" provides for prison sentences of up to three years for anyone who accuses the Polish state or Polish citizens of complicity in Nazi crimes. Journalists are alarmed for various reasons now that the measure has been signed into law.

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Polityka (PL) /

Nationalist revolution will gather pace

Lena Kolarska-Bobińska, former minister for science for the liberal opposition party Civic Platform, warns in Polityka:

“The situation will undoubtedly become more difficult for the government. The acceleration of the nationalist revolution we are now observing runs counter to Mateusz Morawiecki's technocratic goals. It was the prime minister's task to attract investors and voters of the political centre. Now instead he must deal with increasing xenophobia and anti-Semitism.”

Lietuvos rytas (LT) /

Silence just makes it all worse

There could be attempts to prevent details about complicity in Nazi crimes coming to light in Lithuania too, Lietuvos rytas fears:

“Renowned Lithuanian historians have spoken more than once of an intentional or unintentional attempt to play down the role of the Germans in the Holocaust. ... In Lithuania, Poland and the other eastern European countries thorough research and public debate on the topic still resemble a search for a black cat in a pitch dark room. ... The attempts to conceal the stain on history with the help of penal law are absurd. Such laws don't solve the problem; on the contrary, they only intensify the conflict.”

Népszava (HU) /

Illusion of victimhood

The law results in the distortion of history, Hungarian-born US political scientist Charles Gati writes in Népszava:

“It feeds the Poles' illusion that they are innocent victims and that foreign powers are responsible for the country's problems. Over the course of history they have always done good and today they are a nation of excellent people, they feel. Therefore they deserve a better fate but instead they are not valued by the sinful and elitist West. Naturally this is all a fairytale, a distortion of history and the truth. But there's no need to say anything more here because for Hungarian readers living under the Orbán system this is nothing new.”

Dagens Nyheter (SE) /

Debate unwelcome

The law restricts freedom of expression, which is what makes it so dangerous, Dagens Nyheter finds:

“The risk is that the law will smother all debate on the topic. And that would make a mockery of the historians and the victims. The government has assured the academics that they will be able to do their work. But how can they publish it? Will you have to be a professor to do so? Do politicians - and citizens - have the right to learn about the potential results of an academic's work and to support it? ... The Polish leadership has a strange view of democracy. Television and radio have become propaganda centres and the judiciary has been put under political control. ... What really undermines Poland's proud history is the ongoing attack on freedom of expression.”

Gość Niedzielny (PL) /

A bad law as the lesser evil

President Duda was in quite a bind before signing the law, Gość Niedzielny explains:

“For Duda there was no right path to take. The hysterical reactions of Israel and the US considerably limited his room for manoeuvre. He couldn't give in to international pressure and veto the bill because that would have meant Poland wasn't able to assert its own rights on this important matter. Duda opted for the lesser evil and signed a faulty law. At the same time he introduced the possibility of improving the law by referring it to the Constitutional Tribunal.”

Wpolityce.pl (PL) /

We won't be bossed around

The pro-government online portal wPolityce.pl praises Duda for signing the law:

“The president's decision deserves huge respect. ... It's clear that the head of state was under enormous pressure, both within the country and abroad. ... Andrzej Duda didn't yield. He signed the law. Poland has sent a clear message forbidding anyone from giving it responsibility for the Holocaust. It will fight for its good reputation. ... In this matter of existential importance for Poland the president and the government of the Republic have shown unity. And this matter is far more important than the judicial reform. Because if we can be blamed for the Holocaust, people can do anything to us.”

Financial Times (GB) /

Will Poland's academics now emigrate?

Polish society may now be facing enduring change, historian Jan Tomasz Gross warns in the Financial Times:

“A society mobilised around such mendacious propaganda will only grow more xenophobic, until the most open-minded young Poles will find their homeland an inhospitable place to live. This is dangerous: for citizens of the EU, it is easy to move and settle in another country. ... The last time a Polish government used anti-Semitism in its official propaganda - 50 years ago, when the Communist party was in power - the ensuing ethnic cleansing led thousands of Holocaust survivors and their children to emigrate from Poland. ... Today, in a mono-ethnic Poland, it could be the turn of the educated elite to emigrate, with an incalculable impact on the country’s social capital.”

Izvestia (RU) /

Ruling elite consolidating its power

The daily Izvestia tries to provide an explanation for the Polish government's behaviour:

“Poland has managed the considerable feat of not being on good terms with any of its neighbours, including Russia and Ukraine. Even vis-à-vis the EU, the country sometimes adopts a harsh, forceful and aggressive position. Naturally, Poland is a large country that must be taken seriously. But at the same time it depends on external help and is not among the world's leading economies. Yet the Polish leadership is intent on creating a new sense of identity that makes it possible for the current elite to preserve its position.”

La Stampa (IT) /

Things that must not be hushed up

The Poles were not just victims but also accomplices, historian Giovanni Sabbatucci points out in La Stampa:

“I refer not just to the widespread and deep-rooted anti-Semitism, but also and above all to the active participation in pogroms and massacres that occurred during the German occupation. Hundreds of Jews were murdered by Polish henchmen in Jedwabne in July 1941. And worse still, later on, in July 1946, a year after the war had ended, around 40 Jews were killed by neighbours wielding rudimentary weapons as a result of rumours about the kidnapping of a child [allegedly by Jews]. ... The ability to accept one's own past and discuss it without avoiding sensitive issues is a significant indicator of the quality of a democracy.”

La Vanguardia (ES) /

Don't pave the way for negationists

The law is dangerous, La Vanguardia comments:

“The problem with this law is that it is directed mainly against journalists and teachers but excludes historians from the sanctions, paving the way for arguments, relativisation and negationist theories. ... With this law Mateusz Morawiecki's nationalist government is reinforcing a dangerous argument from which it could be deferred that the Holocaust was a purely German crime, when in fact the authorities and citizens of other European countries - France included - collaborated. ... The disadvantages of the law are more evident than its advantages. The gravity of the Holocaust - and the duty to respect the memory of the victims and their descendants - makes it crucial not to relativise the facts nor try to adapt them to the national interests of the incumbent government of any state.”

Wpolityce.pl (PL) /

Israel's attack is unacceptable

The Israeli government has reacted harshly to the Polish law, and historians and Holocaust survivors are shocked. But Poland must not give in, the pro-government news website wPolityce.pl insists:

“The Poles have shed too much blood in the name of a united fatherland for us to now accept someone coming along and teaching us how to write our own legislation. ... It is sad that now - when we believed that the Polish-Israeli relations are better than ever - we are subject to an unacceptable attack on the Polish state. We will not give in, because we don't have the slightest reason to do so. We are on the side of truth.”

Lidové noviny (CZ) /

The Czech Republic could pass a similar law

Lidové noviny warns that the law could inspire other countries to take similar measures:

“No doubt everyone knows the Poles don't like it when people call former German death camps on what is now Polish territory 'Polish camps'. But does that have to be enshrined in law? With legislation that bans any mention of complicity from the outset? Not just the complicity of the Polish nation, but also in specific proven cases? Only a state that is not at all sure of itself can do such a thing. ... Poland could also inspire others to do the same. Imagine if someone proposes a law making it a criminal offence to hold Czechs responsible in any way whatsoever for the expulsion of the Sudeten Germans. Do you think that such a law would not also be passed?”

Novoye Vremya (UA) /

Ukraine is losing its advocate

The driving force behind the law is the ideologists of the PiS and the Kukiz'15 party, ex-diplomat Bohdan Jaremenko explains in an article for Novoye Vremya:

“These are chauvinistic forces that are trying to consolidate their electorate by using nationalist phraseology. And that is causing problems for Poland not just in its relations with Ukraine, but above all with Brussels. ... A revision of state policy is underway, aimed at adapting it to the ruling party's world view. Poland is losing interest in active support for Ukraine and is no longer our advocate as it was for more than 20 years. Particularly since Poland is so busy destroying its international relations that soon it will need its own advocate.”

Newsweek Polska (PL) /

Poland set on remaining innocent victim

The PiS members of parliament who drafted the amendment are less interested in whether people use a certain term than in censoring history pure and simple, Newsweek Polska believes:

“They make no secret of the fact that what interests them isn't the term 'Polish death camp', but rather punishing [historian and author] Jan Tomasz Gross for telling the truth about Jedwabne [where Poles murdered Jews during the Nazi occupation]. ... By tightening the law, the PiS wants to introduce a form of preventive censorship that forbids people from depicting Poland as anything but an innocent and passive victim of other 'crueller' nations.”

The Irish Times (IE) /

Old hatred re-emerging

The former East Bloc is paying the price for failing to face up to the past, The Irish Times observes:

“The Holocaust was at the core of the new European Union project, which is why to deny it is now a crime in many countries. But that doesn't mean underlying attitudes have changed. ... In its rush to get the former Soviet satellites into Europe, all these unresolved issues around nationalism were conveniently ignored, to re-emerge recently in the virulent form of racist and xenophobic reactions to the arrival of Syrian refugees in countries like Hungary and the Czech Republic, and the rise to power of right-wing populist leaders in those countries.”

Die Tageszeitung taz (DE) /

Warsaw just postponing the debate

Using legislation to ban people from coming to terms with the past won't work in the long term, the taz admonishes:

“Poland wants to prevent an academic topic - the Polish collaboration with the Nazis - from being openly discussed. ... In the past, major public debates only took place in Poland when a scholar published a brilliant essay. For example sociologist Jan Tomasz Gross with his book of essays 'Neighbors'. For two whole years all of Poland was discussing the pogrom in Jedwabne. With the 'Lex Gross', Poland's national populist PiS government now wants to prevent any critical confrontation with the past. That may be possible in the short term but in the long term it's a dead end.”

Gazeta Polska Codziennie (PL) /

Poland needs to work on its image

The Polish government must spare neither money nor effort in its attempts to improve the country's image, Gazeta Polska Codziennie demands:

“We should form public opinion about our history and everything that is connected to it here in Poland. Outside Poland hardly anyone is interested in writing positive things about us. ... It's up to our government to ensure that we are heard. And for our voice to be heard abroad it will take a lot of money and painstaking effort on the part of many historians and PR experts. But it's really worth the trouble.”

Irish Examiner (IE) /

"Arbeit macht frei" clearly isn't Polish

There is no sensible reason for the law, writes the Irish Examiner:

“The thinking - let's be generous in the use of that term - behind it is that some people might get the idea that the killing grounds were the work of the Poles or, at least, that they were accomplices in genocide. While no country in Nazi-occupied Europe was without its quislings, can anyone now be in any doubt about the provenance of these dark places? The clues are on the tin: 'Arbeit macht frei' isn't Polish. But what's the Polish for 'linguistic correctness gone mad'?”

Gazeta Wyborcza (PL) /

Israelis right to be incensed

Israel has no choice but to get involved when people start tampering with the memory of the Holocaust, Gazeta Wyborcza writes:

“It's no wonder this law has triggered indignation in Israel, particularly since it was passed shortly before International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Prime Minister Netanyahu called for it to be blocked in the Senate, after which Twitter was flooded with 'patriotic' messages against Israeli interference with Polish lawmaking. Many of the messages are openly anti-Semitic. The law has let an anti-Semitic genie out of the bottle - one that until now had been shamefully hidden away and which is now openly proclaimed by the 'patriots'.”

La Repubblica (IT) /

Polish anti-Semitism is deep-rooted

With this new law Poland is not only denying the past but also protecting new anti-Semitic forces, La Repubblica complains:

“With its reaction [to Israel's objections to the law] the Polish government seems to be trying to play down the significance of the legislation. Yet as Israeli historians warn, Polish anti-Semitism is rooted in Catholicism. During the times of communism it persisted and led to an anti-Semitic hunt in March 1968. And even today far-right Ultras march through Warsaw with anti-Semitic symbols and slogans to mark patriotic remembrance days.”

Rzeczpospolita (PL) /

Israel has misinterpreted the law

Israel of all countries should show understanding for the law, Rzeczpospolita counters:

“The conflict is no doubt due to the fact that the intentions of those who drafted the law weren't properly understood. Their goal isn't to deny the Holocaust but to protect the Polish state from clearly unjustified accusations about its participation in German war crimes. The Polish state has its reasons for this, and in Israel of all places - which is so sensitive on the issue of falsifying history - these reasons should be recognised and understood. Instead we have a conflict with a dangerous dynamic that could cast a pall over our bilateral relations.”