Just hours before the start of International Holocaust remembrance day, Poland’s lower parliament voted on a bill that would make it illegal to discuss Poland’s complacency and the Polish people’s active role in the Holocaust. Mentioning “the Polish nation” as complicit in the crimes of the Holocaust or using the phrase “Polish extermination camp” would be punishable by up to three years imprisonment or a fine.
Deputy Justice Minister Patrick Yaki told parliament, “Every day, around the world, the term ‘Polish extermination camps’ is used – in other words, the crimes of Nazi Germany are attributed to the Poles. So far, Poland has not been able to effectively combat this kind of insult against the Polish nation.”
While it is true the concentration and extermination camps in German-occupied Poland were operated by the Nazi invaders, many Jews died without ever meeting a Nazi soldier and many more were turned in by their Polish neighbors and sent to their deaths. Of course, there are countless stories of Polish heroism, Poles who put their own lives on the line to save Jews, but these wonderful, exceptional people cannot redeem a country that largely turned its back on its Jewish population.
The Polish Nationalist government has been insistent that the Polish people played no role in the Holocaust and often refers to Poland as the”first victim of Nazi aggression.” President Trump received backlash when he validated this position in a speech on his trip to Poland earlier this year. This bill, projected to pass the upper parliament and be signed by Poland’s far-right Prime Minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, is the Nationalist government’s next step toward rewriting history. Repositioning the privileged as victims to absolve guilt is a common Nationalist tactic seen here in the U.S. in the Alt-Right with nonsensical concepts such as “white genocide” — referring to immigration, interracial marriage and low birthrates. When the powerful see themselves as the oppressed, they are at their most dangerous.