On February 1st, Polish President Andrzej Duda signed a bill that made it illegal to claim that Poland was responsible for the atrocities of the Holocaust.
In addition, citizens are not allowed to use the words “Polish death camp.” The only exceptions are art and research (in order to comply with Poland’s constitution), and consequences include a fine and up to three years in jail.
A government organization called the Institute of National Remembrance, which is in charge of maintaining an official historical record and dealing with Nazi crimes is in charge of regulating this law. This announcement has sparked outrage from the international community, especially Israel which has asked its citizens to report their feelings about Poland's involvement in the Holocaust.
The Holocaust was by far one of the most terrifying events in human history. Mass genocide, or the extermination of people for their ethnicities, took place in Europe.
In 1933, when the Nazis took over Germany, they transformed the government into a totalitarian regime. During that time, the Nazi belief that all non-Aryan (non-white) races were inferior, led to increased hatred toward the other races, especially German Jews. Concentration camps were set up. At first, they were meant for political prisoners. But gradually, the Nazis began to round up Jews and forced them to live in the camps, transforming the areas into ghettos.
During World War II, the Nazis began to liquidate ghettos, in what was known as the Final Solution. Around 12 million people were killed, including 6 million Jews, 3.5 million Russians, and 3 million gypsies, homosexuals, and disabled peoples. Most were gassed in chambers or burned to death, solely for their ethnicity or beliefs. This event has come to be known as the Holocaust.
Poland’s Holocaust Bill
The law sparked outrage in Poland and other countries, including Israel, the US, and France. The Israeli government has spoken out, accusing Poland of attempting to erase one of the most devastating events in history. Many others are concerned as well, because suppressing discussion over the past, especially genocide, is similar to taking away free speech. Being unable to voice an opinion has led to many conflicts in the past.
In addition, there is fear that the Polish government is passing the bill solely for political gain, to move Poland farther away from democracy than it already is. However, the Polish government claims that their motive was to correct a misunderstanding, not to prevent free speech.
So far, the truth stands as this: Poland was involved in the Holocaust. The Nazis took Polish land as part of their regime. They built a total of six concentration camps during their rule, including the infamous Auschwitz, though Poland was not responsible for their construction. While some Poles did not support the Nazi government, risking their lives to hide Jews in their homes, some were completely loyal to Hitler. By the end of the war, a total of 3 million Polish Jews were killed in the Final Solution.
Either way, though opinions on the bill are divided, the Holocaust remains an event that has forever changed Polish and human history. Don't miss our two-part interview with a Holocaust survivor in the related articles section.
Source: Time, Washington Post, BBC, NYT, History.com, Haaretz