As the global media has highlighted ad nauseam, Poland recently passed through the legislature a bill that seeks to criminalize the holding of the Polish state complicit for the German Nazi crimes of the Holocaust and the attendant German atrocities during WWII. Currently the bill is being looked at by Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal after Polish President Andrzej Duda sent it for review to make sure it complies with the Polish Constitution.
This bill, known as “Ustawa IPN” (“Institute of National Remembrance Law”), was motivated by Poles’ desire to correct historical inaccuracies regarding Poland’s image and the purported role Poland played during this dark time in history. Poland suffered more than any other country during this period as the Nazi plan was to extinguish Polish-ness and Poland from the map in the hegemonic expansion of the Third Reich, in addition to their “Final Solution” vis a vis European Jewry.
Widely accepted estimates of loss of life in Poland suggest six million Poles perished – three million Jewish and three million non-Jewish Poles. No Polish family was left untouched by the Nazi death machine. As a result, when Poles hear the words “Polish death camps” or “Polish Holocaust” they bristle. Only in recent years did the international media formally change their style guides to strike “Polish death camps” from the press lexicon (and in a fitting display of how widespread this ignorance was, even such a supposedly liberal, sensitive, worldly, cosmopolitan, nuanced ivory-tower academic elite as Barack Obama used the term, referencing Auschwitz in a speech in 2012, to such widespread consternation that it served as a final straw on this issue).
Poland was literally the only country in Nazi-occupied Europe that never demonstrated any complicity with the fascist Nazi occupiers (we all remember the Vichy regime in France and the Quisling one in Norway, which were closer to the norm than the exception in continental Europe). Poland operated a government in exile in London, never had a single SS volunteer, and saw penalties for hiding Jews more severe than anywhere else (whole families, such as the Ulma family in Markowa, Poland, were executed for doing the right and honorable thing).
The government in exile made it a crime for Poles to give up Jews to the Nazis, under penalty of death, and the “Council to Aid Jews” (Zegota) was set up by the Polish resistance in 1942. Poland had more “Righteous Among the Nations” than any other nation according to Yad Vashem – which makes sense as Poland was ground zero for European Jewry for many centuries, which in turn is why Hitler’s Final Solution was so predicated on a network of death camps being built in Poland. To this day there are more stories of the hiding and saving of Jews by Poles in Poland being continually unearthed and honored.
Poles valiantly kept fighting throughout the war, under the worst of circumstances, against the longest of odds (all should read about the legendary Warsaw Uprising, which US President Donald Trump spoke of eloquently in his July 2017 open-air Warsaw speech) and despite the largest loss of life nominally and on a per capita basis of any nation in Europe fighting to maintain its existence. What was the result of this unparalleled sacrifice? Despite an Allied victory, Poland lost its independence yet again when it was traded away to another tyrannical hegemony-seeking despot in Josef Stalin and the Russian Soviet communists by FDR at Yalta in 1945.
So while the German industrial machine was being rebuilt by American taxpayers, affording Germany the ability to pay reparations and reform its image as a bastion of cosmopolitan elitism (and a multi-generational proponent of Eurocentrism, globalism, progressive leftism, multiculturalism, cultural relativism and post-modernist social theories) Poland was suffering for five more decades under the jackboot of Iron Curtain Sovietism.
Fast-forward to 2015 when Poland elected, with an unprecedented-in-scale democratic mandate, its first purely conservative (and nationalist populist) government: Law & Justice (PiS). This party had no ties to the communists or the corrupt post-communist petty oligarchy that, fully amnestied by Lech Walesa, had successfully exploited the transition after 1989 for personal gain and to the detriment of the Polish people/nation, often allying with the EU in ceding Polish sovereignty to Brussels. The Law & Justice government, with its pro-nation state sovereignty mandate, found itself in direct opposition to the EU’s centralization of power project and its designs on introducing supranational governance to an open-border super-state. We have watched this nasty, ideologically-driven international media war play out for over two years.
Given this historical context, one can understand why this Polish government, with the paramount motivation to correct the historical record regarding Poland’s wartime history, would draft a bill such as “Ustawa IPN.” It was cronyist looting more than governing or correcting false historical narratives that took precedence for PiS’s Eurocentric predecessors, Civic Platform (PO), the party of Donald Tusk and Radoslaw Sikorski. When this was exposed during the infamous hidden tapes scandal Aferatasmowa (printed transcripts demonstrating the extent of PO’s brazen back-room corruption published in Polish news weekly Wprost) it led rightfully to its being ignominiously turfed out of power, much to their Brussels partners’ chagrin, and to Law & Justice receiving its overwhelming mandate from a fed-up Polish electorate.
That being said, Law & Justice has not made it easy on itself in the way this bill was constructed and with regard to utilizing the necessary diplomacy to communicate its goals while treading into this highly (and justly) sensitive topic.
The criminalization of speech, with the threat of up to three-year prison sentences for violating the proposed law’s rather vague precepts, for which the Polish government is currently under attack, does not deviate that greatly from similar pieces of established law in Germany, Scandinavia, France, the UK and Israel in their own treatments of Holocaust denial and that era’s tragic history.
(This author believe all these laws violate the fundamental human right to unfettered free speech, which is inextricably linked to the ability of free societies to remain optimally free and ultimately innovative and prosperous. Under the rubric of policing “hate speech” – which can never be fundamentally defined and as such offers a plethora of slippery slopes toward censorship and thought crime as per Orwell – there is a European societal standard applied in contravention of this natural right.)
In the case of the Polish law there exists a clear double standard. Moreover, there is massive disinformation circulating on what the law is actually meant to police – so massive in fact that it seems that this is being used as an opportunity to undermine the Polish good faith motivations behind this law’s support in order to coercively play politics.
The law explicitly states that the criminal action pertains exclusively to the allegation of Polish state complicity, not the complicity of individual Poles, some of whom, during wartime (and before and after, as any society will see) did atrocious things and are worthy of the historical condemnations that have been levied and will continue to be researched and highlighted.
The roll-out of the law, as with its wording and the communications that surrounded it, was particularly egregious. After sitting on it the entire first half of this government’s term, the Polish Justice Ministry pushed it to the Sejm (the lower house of Polish Parliament – the first stop for new legislation) for a vote on Friday January 26 – one day before International Holocaust Memorial Day. I have written in the past in about the rogue justice minister (Zbigniew Ziobro) with his own political agenda (factions exist in every political party and movement) and in this case the timing was too guaranteed to create a diplomatic crisis to be anything but an inside operation.
This came on the heels of newly elevated Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s successful trips to Brussels and Davos, where he handled himself with aplomb with Eurocrat Jean-Claude Juncker and the Davos international media elite. Morawiecki successfully put a new face of centrism, pragmatism, rationality, worldliness and reasonableness on this Polish government. The internal faction of hardline nationalists, which Justice Minister Ziobro founded and leads (Solidarna Polska) and its supporters were displeased to see Morawiecki’s collective Polish success abroad, which undermines their own electoral aspirations. Hence the deliberately provocative timing of this bill.
Not surprisingly, given the timing, and the fact that the coming Israeli electoral cycle is currently heating up, Israeli politicians flocked to this issue to paint this law as an example of legislating fallacious historical revisionism and a form of Holocaust denial (by shifting potential culpabilities), and thus a re-institutionalization of what they allege is Polish cultural antisemitism. This has now escalated with the entrance into the fray by the international media cohort, American legislators, the US State Department and many others of the global political classes who have since weighed in on this issue.
As with Ziobro’s botched initial judicial reform, put forward this past summer, he again, evidently not a believer in Harry S. Truman’s “the buck stops here” aphorism, went absolutely invisible for the month since the brouhaha commenced. Instead, as also had played out previously with this past summer’s judicial reform, he sent his lackey deputy minister, Patryk Jaki, to be the public face of the ministerial defense of this bill, its structure and wording, and its timing (all very tough to defend – especially given the diplomatic crisis that was birthed from its release... as outcomes in politics matter).
Morawiecki added fuel to the fire in Germany for the Munich Security Conference when he fielded a question from Ronen Bergman, an Israeli journalist (and a New York Times contributor), who seemed less interested in a breakdown of the actual mechanics of the law than in spinning a validation of his preferred depiction of it for his partisan readership and preening his own moral high ground against the Polish Prime Minister.
Bergman floridly emotes: “[Morawiecki] stares at me as if he is examining some kind of nuisance” in his accounting of the prime minister’s response to his question. Said response (using the word “perpetrators” to refer to other groups during the war, including Jews) was admittedly not well constructed to assuage legitimate sensitivities. As one who knows the Polish prime minister and his pragmatism personally, this was probably more owed to the nuance of linguistics in word choice than a desire to be malicious, which clearly does no good for anyone. Bergman continues: “These comments left me flabbergasted. My eyes were filled with tears of pain and rage. I was glad I had at least helped reveal his true colors with my question.”
Hardly the journalistic presentation of one who wants to report news.
(Lest this 100% Jewish author be labeled an antisemite, again, for not adhering to whatever the “acceptable” sensibilities might be in describing this above incident as prescribed by the global media elite, like Mr. Bergman’s family mine too was dramatically and forever impacted by the Holocaust, as my Polish father’s line was all but extinguished by the Nazis in the Warsaw ghetto and Majdanek death camp in Lublin, Poland. Moreover, these issues regarding Polish-Jewish relations and history are ones I have thought and exposited on deeply. N.B.)
One month after the initial vote, the justice minister came out of hiding to declare in an interview (and formally state on the ministry’s website) that with the bill passed there will be no freezing of its enforcement, in a direct move to undermine ongoing talks and the review to soften its language and structure and make it more palatable to critics. This was clearly an attempt to prevent diplomatic resolutions from being consummated and a sabotaging of the Polish-Israeli dialogue that was to commence in coming weeks.
THE GREAT and tragic irony of this diplomatic crisis – propelled further by those (internally and externally) who have a strong political interest in seeing Poland and this conservative nationalist populist government, not pliant to Brussels’ diktats, weakened – is that heretofore Polish-Israeli relations were the strongest of any EU nation’s relations with the Jewish state. These strong modern-era relations have been predicated on shared history and identity; hundreds of years of Polish-Jewish cohabitation; a large number of Polish Jews being instrumental in the creation of the Zionist state (with Polish one of the first languages utilized in the Knesset); existent strong contemporary trade ties with a material amount of modern Warsaw being developed by Israeli business concerns; congruent political alignments (especially now with both countries being governed by true conservative parties) on border security and the shared distrust and willingness to call out radical Islam (which clearly differs from the majority of the political classes of Western Europe); relatively few incidents of actual antisemitic violence in Poland (starkly juxtaposed with the regularity of such incidents in France, Germany, Scandinavia, and the rest of the progressive leftist Western continent which continues to appease Islamist political cohorts); and most recently, the abstention by Poland at the United Nations vote condemning the US in the moving of its embassy to Jerusalem (where predictably every EU nation from Germany westward voted to condemn President Trump’s action).
Also telling is that in 2008, on the fortieth anniversary of the 1968 university purges of Jewish students, president Lech Kaczynski (the president when Law & Justice last dominated Polish politics), led the initiative to symbolically restore Polish citizenship to those Jews who were ejected and consequently fled Poland.
It is clear, given the double standard on widespread pan-European laws censoring speech regarding these sensitive historical issues, that the politically oriented motivation for this dramatic attack on Poland’s iteration of this sort of law extends beyond European political actors.
Recently, the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center loudly and publicly issued a call for Jews to limit their travel to Poland, that reads: “In wake of the controversial new Holocaust Law in Poland and the anti-Semitism it has unleashed that has left the Jewish community shaken, the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) is considering issuing a Travel Advisory for world Jewry.”
Despite such a dramatic statement there does not seem to be any evidence of this “unleashing” of antisemitism by any empirical metric. Can such “unleashed antisemitism” be similarly disproven against the empirical reality of seeing robust antisemitic activity in France, Germany, Sweden, the UK, Holland, Belgium, et al perpetrated by hostile third world migrants and refugees from the Islamic third world, many of whom stridently believe in theological diktats that include death by jihad to worldwide Jewry?
Polish synagogues, both actively attended ones and historical sites (frequently refurbished due to their cultural importance), do not need 24-hour armed protection. Can the same be said in Berlin, Germany? Or in Copenhagen, Denmark, or Gothenburg and Malmo, Sweden? The selection of Poland as a focus of consternation and intervention by organizations, foundations and advocacy groups reeks of this uber-politicization.
We have seen Poland under attack this way from the global elite time and again since this government took power. Recently, the annual march in Warsaw this past November 11 celebrating Polish Independence Day was painted by the global media as an assemblage of fascists and Nazis despite the fallacious manufacture of this allegation. It further indicated Poland is under attack for political reasons and held to a far different, and non-merit-based, standard by those coordinating the undermining campaign. When a far-left “charitable” foundation engages in provocations to drive negative media coverage and test the viability of enforcing this proposed law, and internal political opposition (such as Donald Tusk represents) can bludgeon externally from Brussels perches, then it also indicates the existence of such a campaign.
But outcomes do matter in geopolitics and as such it is worth reconsidering the negative diplomatic implications of following through with passage of this law in its current form. Diplomacy is built around getting the other side to see and understand your viewpoint and goals through dialogue and discourse. There needs to be a serious reworking of the structure of this bill, something that appears may be currently in the works (as long as the Polish justice minister is not able to quash such efforts), where the violations and the enforcement mechanisms are clearly delineated and communicated and found to be acceptable to more than just the far-right domestic Polish political base.
If this does not occur, then the globalist Left political cohort will have won (with some domestic assistance) in successfully driving a wedge in relations between Poland and its US and Israeli allies – all helmed by governments that share much in policy philosophy. This would be an unacceptable failure with long-term negative implications for Poland’s ascendant standing in the European political order along with a negation of the concomitant opportunities for the American and Israeli allies’ deeper engagement with Poland on a myriad of shared interests.
Matthew Tyrmand is a journalist and dual Polish and American citizen actively involved in commenting on politics across multiple media in both places. He writes a weekly column for Polish newsweekly Do Rzeczy and has contributed to Breitbart, Forbes, and other outlets in the English language.