Poland's new "holocaust law" is just going to tick off everyone

Polish President Andrzej Duda has garnered a lot of praise in some circles for his willingness to stand up to dictates from the EU and fight for his country’s right to maintain their own national identity. Unfortunately, the latest move by his party is probably going to be seen as divisive and repressive or, at a minimum, a pointless waste of time. He has announced that he will be signing a new bill instituting what’s being called a “Holocaust law” which will criminalize any references to Polish complicity in Nazi atrocities and participation in the holocaust during World War 2. (Reuters)

Polish President Andrzej Duda said on Tuesday that he will sign a contested Holocaust bill into law, despite protests from Israel and the United States.

The measure imposes prison sentences of up to three years for mentioning the term “Polish death camps” and for suggesting “publicly and against the facts” that the Polish nation or state was complicit in Nazi Germany’s crimes.

Poland’s right-wing government says the law is necessary to protect the reputation of Poles as victims of Nazi aggression. Israel says the law would ban true statements about the role that some Poles played in Nazi crimes.

It’s obvious that you wouldn’t want people associating your country with the Nazis and the holocaust, but the number of things wrong with this proposal are significant. Even putting aside the basic facts of history, Poland is preparing to once again criminalize speech. Granted, they are hardly unique in that regard because most of Europe (and frankly, the rest of the world as well) fails miserably when it comes to guarding free speech. You can be arrested just for talking about any number of subjects in most of those countries. Still, it’s a depressing trend which is continuing there.

And what of the subject of this forbidden speech? On the surface, it’s easy enough to recognize that Poland was definitely a victim of Hitler’s aggression during the war, not an instigator. They were invaded by Germany in 1939 (and the Soviets not long after) and their military was overrun in barely a month. But they went on to set up a sort of exile government which continued to resist the Nazis and helped the Allied forces in many ways. But it’s equally true that some of those left behind were left with no choice but to cooperate with their German conquerors or die. In that regard, they weren’t all that different from the later days of the Vichy government in France.

You can argue about how much of that was willing participation and how much was just a survival mechanism, but a lot of bad things happened. The one truth which is beyond dispute is that more than three million Polish Jews died in the concentration camps, wiping out approximately 90% of their population.

Making it a crime to even mention a tragic but critical portion of their own history does no service to the Poles and is an insult to the Jews who have to live with the memory of that era. This is ham-fisted suppression of free speech and a move which seems sure to please nobody while angering nearly everyone.