As I explained in my earlier posting on this – http://lordsoftheblog.net/2016/01/23/poland-is-the-problem/ – the rule of law is regarded by the EU as under threat in Poland. A further new law announced by Poland this week compounds the problem. The government of Poland plans to introduce a law making it a crime to imply the country bears any responsibility for atrocities carried out on Polish soil by Nazi Germany. People could face up to five years in prison if found guilty.
The bill was drafted in part as a response to the phrase “Polish death camps” which often appears in the media as a shortcut term. In such cases, the state could pursue civil action and claim compensation. The bill would make it illegal to say that Poland “took part, organised or was co-responsible for the crimes of the Third Reich”. So I am hastening to write this blog before they take action against me . . .
Poland was a country under Nazi occupation, and the many concentration camps on its soil were built and run by the Germans. But there is more to it than that. Yes, the Poles were victims of the Nazis. Yes, there were some Polish heroes who resisted the occupation and rescued Jews. There was a dark side as well. In the 1930s there was a Polish boycott of Jewish business and discrimination against Jews. Restrictions were applied to Jewish students at universities. During the War some Jews were betrayed or killed by their Polish neighbours and their vacant properties taken over (see the film Ida). The Polish historian Jan Gross has written books describing what happened, specifically the Jedwabne pogrom, which the Polish Institute of National Remembrance accepts was carried out by Poles. Now it is reported that Jan Gross may be stripped of his Polish Order of Merit for claiming that Poles were complicit in some war crimes of the period. There was also the matter of the Kielce pogrom in 1946, when a gathering of 200 returning Jewish refugees was attacked, and 42 killed by Polish people.
So much for free speech then. Rather than allow debate on the issues outlined above, they are to be made criminal statements.
Legislation, however, will not make the issue go away. If Poland really wants to distance itself from the Nazi era, which is quite understandable, the one remedial action the government could take is to pass a law to arrange partial restitution to the survivors of the hundreds of thousands of Poles whose property was seized during the Nazi era (and also in the Communist era). The Holocaust was not only genocide, it was also the greatest theft in history. Not only were the victims killed, but their legacy – cultural, professional, religious and territorial – was stolen from them. Holocaust restitution is not only about the victims. It is also about those who victimized. It is about satisfying the need for a moral accounting regarding the horrific events of the second world war and some of the communist depradations thereafter.
Time for Poland to make restitution, as many other Eastern European countries have done. Only then will the ghosts of the past be laid to rest.