OPINION | POLAND | FREE SPEECH
by Dovid Katz
So what happened on January 31st? The new law, adopted by both houses of the Polish parliament and then enacted on March 1st, warns that, “Whoever claims, publicly and contrary to the facts, that the Polish Nation or the Republic of Poland is responsible or co-responsible for Nazi crimes committed by the Third Reich […] or for other felonies that constitute crimes against peace, crimes against humanity or war crimes, or whoever otherwise grossly diminishes the responsibility of the true perpetrators of said crimes […] shall be liable to a fine or imprisonment for up to three years. The sentence shall be made public.”
The law is in some sense an overreaction to some common mischaracterizations of Poland’s role in the Holocaust, starting with the myth that Hitler chose to build concentration camps there because Poland was so antisemitic. He built them there because that is where the Jews were, more than three million of them. Nor did the Nazis generally recruit Poles to do the actual killing of Jews, as was the case in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and (western) Ukraine, among others. There were, to be sure, atrocities committed by Poles, such as the 1941 massacre of the Jews of Jedwabne—powerfully researched and immortalized by Jan Gross in his masterly 2001 book, Neighbors—and the unthinkable pogrom at Kielce, in 1946, just months after the end of the Holocaust.