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The Polish Holocaust law's makers are not defending their country

Yehuda Bauer examines the historical discrepancies in the new law

    A protester against the new law in Poland
    A protester against the new law in Poland (Photo: Getty Images)

    The fact that a very large number of Poles killed Jews or delivered them to the collaborationist Polish “blue” police or the Germans was not the act of the Polish nation or state.

    But it was the act of a segment, unfortunately a large one, of the Polish population. It did happen — today’s claims to the contrary notwithstanding.

    On the other hand, the heroes who risked their lives and those of their families by rescuing or trying to rescue Jews, although a small minority, represented the best of Polish humanitarianism and liberal traditions and not the Polish nation or state.

    A Polish-Jewish underground group called Zegota rescued several thousand Jews, mainly in Warsaw.

    That contemporary propaganda vastly exaggerates the number of rescuers is, in a way, a positive sign, because the implication is that rescuing Jews was an honourable act.

    This was not the dominant view at the time. Jews were citizens of Poland, but most of wartime Polish society saw them as dangerous foreign elements and many were content to see them killed by the Germans.

    Today’s nationalistic insistence on defending Polish honour is meaningless precisely because there was no Polish nation or state that could act one way or the other.

    This herring is dark red. By criminalising results of research that point out the radical anti-Jewish attitude of very many Poles, the real aim of the current Polish policies becomes obvious: an attack on liberal Poland, on its freedom of speech, research, and education, basing itself on strong nationalistic and antisemitic currents.

    The current government is being harshly censored by the European Union because it has in practice abolished the independence of the Polish judiciary while enjoying very large financial support from the very EU it constantly attacks.

    All this looks like the use of Bolshevik methods by an ostensibly anti-communist regime. In sum, the controversial Polish legislation is a direct attack on the Polish nation, a great people with great traditions — and some less great ones, but that is true of all peoples.

    Logically, the initiators of the law should be tried and sentenced to three years in prison for denigrating the good name of the Polish nation.

    The Jewish people should make clear that it is not in any way anti-Polish but opposes a policy of the present government which invents a past that never was. It should support Polish liberal traditions and a wonderful culture, and keep open a dialogue with anyone in Poland who welcomes it.

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