On December 18th, 1998, the Act on the Institute of National Remembrance-Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation was passed. This act made it illegal to deny the crimes that the Nazi regime committed against the Polish people during World War II. This was done in order to assure that the Nazi death and concentration camps would be remembered as being German and not Polish.
Twenty years later, this doctrine has come to be heavily criticized as the Polish senate gathered to amend article 55a in the Act on the Institute of National Remembrance. Article 55a states the following;
“1. 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, as specified in Article 6 of the Charter of the International Military Tribunal enclosed to the International agreement for the prosecution and punishment of the major war criminals of the European Axis, signed in London on 8 August 1945 (Polish Journal of Laws of 1947, item 367), 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 3 years. The sentence shall be made public.
- If the act specified in clause 1 is committed unintentionally, the perpetrator shall be liable to a fine or a restriction of liberty.
- No offence is committed if the criminal act specified in clauses 1 and 2 is committed in the course of the one’s artistic or academic activity.”
Article 55a is a danger to free speech and to the memory of the Shoah. Article 55a prohibits any reference to Auschwitz-Birkenau, Majdanek, Chelmno, or any other death camp, as well as concentration camps, from being called Polish camps. Any reference to Poland holding any responsibility in the Holocaust is punishable by law and the punishment is “a fine or imprisonment for up to 3 years.” This article is nothing but an insult and an attempt to deny the past and part that the Polish people played during the time that they were controlled by the Nazi regime. There may have been righteous gentiles, helping Jewish people and anyone else who needed to escape or hide, but they cannot erase the Anti-Semitism that was and still is prevalent in Polish society and the part that the Polish people played in perpetuating the Holocaust.
On February 1st, 2018, the Polish senate gathered and amended this article with 57 votes to 23 with two abstentions. Article 55a was signed by Polish President, Andzej Duda, which ultimately denies Poland’s part in the Holocaust. This article has been criticized by many as an attempt to rewrite history. Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, stated, “One cannot change history and the Holocaust cannot be denied.” He is not alone in his statement. Although the camps were controlled by the Nazis and had Polish prisoners, Polish people were not reluctant or free from blame in the tragedy that took place throughout the country.
When Poland was invaded by the Nazi regime on October 1st, 1939, the majority of Polish people were not righteous gentiles. They turned in their Jewish neighbors and lived out their lives in silence as the tragedy only worsened. Even before and after the Holocaust, Jewish people were forced to run from their homes as the Polish people were constantly terrorizing the Jews and causing pogroms. If we can ignore the part that the Polish people played, then what else can we start to ignore?
The Nazi regime may have invaded Europe, but the German people were not alone in the terror they plagued over the Jewish people and anyone else who did not fit the definition of a perfect Aryan. Any person who was homosexual, socialist, communist, mentally or physically disabled, or not of ancient Aryan descent and against the Nazi regime ideal was imprisoned with the intent of being murdered. The Milice (French police) rounded Jews days before they needed to, the St. Louis, a boat with a 1,000 German Jewish refugees, was denied by every country–including the United States, and Stalin was originally on the side of Hitler. These are things that cannot and should not, be denied.
Not only does article 55a allow the Polish people to deny the part they played in the Shoah, but it is a major infringement on free speech. Upon their deathbeds, Holocaust survivors are revealing their Jewish heritage to their Christian raised children. After the Shoah ended, pogroms took place throughout Poland, causing many Polish Jews to live out their lives as Christians, and not tell their children of their Jewish Heritage. Now, as they tell their children and grandchildren of their true heritage, a vibrant Jewish community is slowly growing in the city of Krakow. Nevertheless, how can a Jewish community feel safe enough to grow when on top of the apparent Anti-Semitism in Poland, the government is also trying to deny its heinous past. History is taught in order to learn from the past so that we can assure that it is not repeated; now an entire country is refusing to admit their wrongdoings. With this mindset in place the phrase “never again” has no meaning. “Never again” cannot be assured when a government is refusing to remember its past.