From Poland to America, How Half-Truths Fan the Flames of Fascism

In celebration of the 99th anniversary of Polish independence from imperial rule in 1918, All-Polish Youth, a far-right organization named after the Academic Union “All-Polish Youth,” a violent anti-semitic group from the 1930s, hosted an “alternative” independence parade. The parade has been an annual gathering of far-right and neo-fascist groups since 2009, but this year’s attendance swelled over 60,000, far larger than the “official” celebration.

Posters saying “White Europe,” “Pray for an Islamic Holocaust” and “Clean Blood” could be seen in the crowd, chanting slogans such as, “Get the Jews out of power” and “Refugees get out!”

Poland’s swing to the right, ushered in by the election of the Law and Justice party in 2015, has been marked by a common narrative switch: painting the oppressors as the oppressed. The phenomenon that that allows the majority of White Americans to feel that White people face discrimination is the same one Polish leadership has tapped into by painting Muslim immigration as an “invasion” and reframing the Holocaust to fit their needs.

The Polish government’s narrative surrounding the Holocaust is a work of historical revisionism that centers Polish suffering and absolves Polish Nationals of their role as perpetrators of violence. Tour guides at the Auschwitz memorial, a former Nazi concentration camp in Poland, have an official script that emphasizes the heroism of individual Polish nationals and completely fails to mention the countless pogroms and massacres Polish citizens enacted against the country’s Jewish residents during the same time period.  In their version of events, no Polish national cooperated with Nazis of their own free will – a documentable falsehood. The death count in Auschwitz alone includes 960,000 Jews, 74,000 Poles, 21,000 Rroma, 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war and 12,000 others. However, when polled, 47% of Poles believe Auschwitz was primarily a place of Polish suffering and only 51% acknowledge that the majority of the victims were Jewish. Over 90% of the Jews living in Poland before World War II were murdered, many by Poles and yet Polish Nationalists have co-opted Jewish suffering for their own use.

Peddling these falsehoods, whether in Europe or America, that diminish the trauma of the marginalized and emphasize the suffering of the dominant class dually serve the same goal of perpetuating and exaggerating existing power structures. This technique of borrowing the words and experiences of the oppressed can be seen in the language of the Alt-Right; while Genocide, the intentional action to destroy a people, has meant the mass slaughter of the Tutsi in Rwanda or decimation of Armenians in Turkey, “White Genocide” refers to things like interracial marriage, immigration, and the acceptance of LGBT people. White nationalism is fueled by this false sense of victimhood created by both exaggerating injustices committed against them and the denying horrors they did commit.

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