Gagging History, Un-Gagging Hate: The debate over Poland's new 'Holocaust law' stokes rising anti-Semitism.

AuthorGebert, Konstanty

The controversy over Poland's so-called "Holocaust law" has developed into the Central European country's biggest international conflict since it regained independence in 1989. The law, which took effect March 1 (coincidentally, but somewhat ominously, on Purim), makes it a crime punishable by up to three years in jail to accuse the Polish state or nation of responsibility or co-responsibility for Nazi crimes of World War II. Facing a chorus of international outrage, including from the Israeli government, the law has already done great damage. The debate around its passage, which was built on the false premise that Poland is subject to an avalanche of references to Nazi concentration camps as "Polish death camps," has brought forth an anti-Semitism that was thought to have largely disappeared from Polish public opinion.

It is true that Poland had nothing to do with the German decision to build the camps on occupied Polish soil, nor were Poles involved in running them. Yet Google Trends shows that the supposedly injurious expression "Polish death camps" was barely ever being used--until this year, when the law was passed and sparked widespread outcry. Ostensibly designed to punish this phrase, the law in fact is much broader. Critics legitimately believe it is intended to gag free discussion of Polish attitudes and actions toward Jews in World War II.

For some reason, the Polish government was surprised when Jews in Israel and the diaspora reacted with outrage. In Jerusalem, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid tweeted that the camps were actually Polish and that his grandmother had been killed "by Germans and Poles" in one of them. The Polish embassy responded by saying that his tweet "shows how badly Holocaust education is needed, even here in Israel," and things went downhill from there.

But many Polish reactions have been even more outrageous. Journalists and politicians claim that Jewish protests are in fact an unacceptable attack on Poland, that "Poland is at war with the Jews" and that "this is a struggle to the death." The accusations and paranoia are well beyond the reach of facts--sometimes on the Jewish side as well. For instance, last month an American Jewish charity, the Ruderman Family Foundation, posted a video online that the Polish Jewish community thought worsened the situation--it declared there had indeed been a "Polish Holocaust," called for American retaliation for "this disgraceful law" and used death numbers that scholars now...

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