Yehuda Bauer

Poland’s new Holocaust law is an act of collusion

Despite the joint declaration with Israel, historians and artists are no longer protected, says Yehuda Bauer

July 06, 2018 10:55

Last week, Poland and Israel published a declaration announcing an end to the disagreement between them on the so-called “Holocaust law”.

In its previous form, the law could have imprisoned anyone presenting the Polish nation as responsible for Second World War crimes. A new agreement eliminated subsections that criminalise those who sully Polish honour — but leaves open, and in fact encourages, the prospect of prosecution in civil courts.

In Polish criminal law, the accuser has to prove criminality. In civil cases, the onus is on the accused: they have to prove that what was stated is in accordance with the facts. Historians and artists are no longer protected.

A historian could face a punishing fine for showing that Polish peasants either delivered Jews to the Germans or the collaborationist Polish police.

 The same will apply to those who describe how, in a very large number of localities, peasants looted property abandoned by Jews who had been deported to their deaths. Of the few survivors who returned, a high proportion were met with murderous hostility after the war when they tried to reclaim even personal items.

Liberal academics now face the reduction or elimination of essential subsidies for research and publication, and may well be threatened with a loss of their positions.

Penury is an effective weapon in the hands of authoritarian regimes — of which Poland is becoming one. As with all anti-democratic governments, facts will be determined not through independent research but by the authorities, in this case by the Institute of National Memory.

The Israeli government agreed with all that. But why accept the mendacious Polish narrative, abandon the many decent and courageous Poles who speak the truth, and distort Holocaust history?

For pragmatic political reasons, obviously. Economic and security ties and Polish support for Israeli positions are more important than something as minor as Holocaust memory. We are great with the words, but we are acting in conformity with historical untruths. This is collusion.

Yehuda Bauer is a Holocaust scholar

July 06, 2018 10:55

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