Warning: This article is illegal in Poland


Poland is on the verge of passing a law which will make it illegal to refer to Polish participation in the Holocaust.

It outlaws blaming the Polish state or nation for Holocaust crimes and criminalizes use of the term “Polish death camp” to describe Nazi-run extermination camps in the country when it was occupied during World War II.

The bill was approved by Poland’s lower house of parliament on January 26 — the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day — and passed the Senate on Wednesday. To become law, it must be signed by President Andrzej Duda, who has indicated he supports the legislation and last week criticized Israel’s “violent” reaction.

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Poland would love to point the blame for the Holocaust entirely on Nazi Germany, but there were many actors involved. The Baltic States participated in the concnetration camps. Ukranians helped hunt down and kill Jews. French turned over Jews to the Nazis. FDR refused to let Jews into the country and refused to bomb the rail lines leading to the concentration camps.

And what was Poland's role?

More than 200,000 Jews were killed, directly or indirectly, by Poles in World War II, says historian Jan Grabowski, who studied the brutal persecution of the victims.

There is no doubt, he writes in his book, that the great majority of Jews in hiding perished as a consequence of betrayal. They were denounced or simply seized, tied up and delivered by locals to the nearest station of the Polish police, or to the German gendarmerie.

A whole mechanism was set up to hunt Jews, he says. It operated under German supervision but all those on the ground were Poles: villagers who conducted night watches, local informers, policemen, firefighters and others. Together, Grabowski maintains, they created a dense web that made it almost impossible for those hiding to escape discovery.

Grabowski emphasizes that the actual number of Jews murdered by Poles is even higher than his estimate. [My] count is very, very conservative, he notes, because I have not included here the human toll of the Polish Blue police, who were a deadly force not only after the liquidation of the ghettos but during these so-called liquidation actions.

Grabowskis book concentrates on a rural region of southeastern Poland called Dabrowa Tarnowska. Of its population of 60,000 on the eve of the war, 5,000 were Jews, almost all of whom were deported to the death camp Belzec. Of 500 who managed to escape and hide among the Poles, only 38 survived the war. All the others, as Grabowski discovered, were betrayed and murdered in direct or indirect ways by their Polish neighbors.

There were also some heroic Poles who saved Jews. But many, many Poles had blood on their hands from the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Jews they betrayed to the Nazis. It is convenient for Poland to cast itself as a helpless victim of the Nazis, and that is why they are passing this law now, to disassociate themselves from the horrors of the Holocaust that many of them willingly participated in.

But no law will silence the tremendous guilt and shame that Poland should feel for its willing role in mass murder.



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