Why are we still talking about Nazi war crimes? Well, first of all, because remembering these atrocious actions helps us to avoid a similar future, at least in a social and politic context. Secondly, because this year a new law forbids to accuse the Polish government of complicity in Nazi crimes.
Nazi Occupation of Poland
This January 27th, on the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the current Polish government took strong actions on what they call the defamation of Poland’s record in World War II. They do not want to be associated with any Nazi crimes committed by the Third Reich, and that includes calling the concentration camps “Polish death camps.”
For many years the Polish government has been trying to stop the media from using those expressions since it basically means that Poland was a nest for Nazi sympathizers. It implied that all the horrors Jews and non-Jews had to endure during WWII were consented by the State when they actually were Nazi crimes against the Polish nation.
Let’s remember that German Nazi forces invaded Poland in 1939. Around 1.5 million armed Germans and half a million Soviet soldiers were fighting over this territory. War crimes like indiscriminate executions, bombing campaigns, the creation of forced labor camps, the decimation of prisoners through hunger and disease, torture and cultural genocide were all committed on Polish territory, but not only against Jews, but regular Polish families, and not with their government’s permission.
In fact, the Polish government never surrendered to the Nazis and befriended nations, like Israel, once recognized the Polish help in saving Jews.
Is it Really About Washing Away History?
To set one thing straight: only the mentally ill would be proud of Nazi crimes nowadays. There is no way someone could defend those actions, and it doesn’t really matter if actually 6 million people were killed, they could have been just a few, and still, it would be wrong.
Saying “Polish death camps” is as wrong as saying “German concentration camps,” they didn’t have a nationality, but an ideology. And even though Germany and Israel have both recognized that adding the nationality to that noun is not correct, they believe that this new Polish law is terribly drafted and could be used to wash away the dark chapters of the not so forgotten Nazi-Polish occupation.
Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister, declared that this new law is ridiculous since it criminalizes the mention of the Polish government as an accomplice in Nazi crimes. It sets a three-year sentence for those using the phrase “Polish death camps.”
To Netanyahu, the law doesn’t help the Polish to cleanse their participation in WWII like they intend to, but actually distorts the truth and simply rewrites history, denying the Holocaust. This wording may seem exaggerated, but he has a point that needs to be stated: even though Poland did not surrender to the Nazis and openly fought against them, some Polish citizens did commit crimes against Jews, and they need to be recognized.
Polish Involvement in Nazi Crimes
Historians have tried to show a heroic and martyrized Polish nation but omitted some crimes that stain this version of the story.
Jan T. Gross, a Polish Princeton University professor, wrote the book “Neighbors” in 2000, in which he describes violent murders of Jews by Polish men in the town of Jedwabne, around 1941. A year after the publication, the Polish government acknowledged these murders and others, then erecting a monument to remember the victims.
The then Polish President, Aleksander Kwasniewski, apologized publicly to the national and international Jewish community, recognizing that what Gross had written, was true.
So, to summarize, this law may be perceived as anti-Semitic, because if they make it illegal to mention Poland as part of Nazi crimes, they make it illegal to tell stories like the ones from Jedwabne.
However, Poland behaved like a very strong nation during WWII and Poles were incredibly brave for fighting against this nightmare for so long. In both the name of their own people and the Jews. Maybe this law needs to be re-revised, so it can both strengthen and clean the Polish national identity and condemn the crimes committed by few against the Jewish community during WWII.
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