2018-07-04 / Editorial

Change to Poland’s Holocaust Law will help ease tension

Just months after making it a crime to accuse Poland of complicity in the Holocaust, the Eastern European nation has watered down the controversial measure, ostensibly due to pressure from the United States.

The law, which outlawed blaming Poland for atrocities committed during the Holocaust on Polish soil or by its citizens, is still on the books. However, the recent amendment changes violation of the measure to a civil offense, rather than a criminal one. We believe this is one step in the right direction.

It is true that Poland never installed a collaborationist government after it was invaded by Germany. During World War II, Poles saved thousands of Jews and the country indeed has the highest count of individuals who have been recognized by Yad Vashem as the Righteous Among Nations. Yet countless other Poles killed thousands of Jews or betrayed them to the Nazis. The Nazis killed 3 million Jewish Poles and another 3 million non-Jewish ones.

Some seven decades later, scholars are mining documents and even still conducting interviews to derive a clearer picture of the historic record. The so-called Holocaust law, which was approved in March, stymied such important research. Jewish organizations, including the World Jewish Congress, complained that it was a violation of free speech, an impediment to historical scholarship of the Holocaust and a setback to the relationship between Poland and Israel.

According to reports, Poland likely capitulated on the harder line stance thanks to behind the scenes pressure from the U.S. In March, the Onet news site said it had obtained documents showing Polish government officials would not be received by President Donald Trump or any other member of the U.S. administration if the law were not revised. Moreover, staff from the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw threatened to suspend funding for joint military projects between the United States and Poland, according to the Onet report.

While some right wing Poles were bitterly opposed to the amendment – and in fact blamed Israel for the capitulation — Jewish and American interest groups are cautiously optimistic that the softening of the law will help repair some of the damage.

David Harris, the CEO of the American Jewish Committee, has noted how the law affects U.S.-Polish ties.

“Correcting this counterproductive measure is an important step to restore confidence and advance ties among Poland, the Jewish world, and the United States,” he said. 

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