By overturning this law, you have let me stay proud of Poland

We hope that we can all work together to ensure that the horrors of the Holocaust are never forgotten.

Two boys hug in front of the main railway building of the former Nazi death camp Birkenau (Auschwitz II) during the 'March of the Living' in Oswiecim, Poland (photo credit: KATARINA STOLTZ/ REUTERS)
Two boys hug in front of the main railway building of the former Nazi death camp Birkenau (Auschwitz II) during the 'March of the Living' in Oswiecim, Poland
As a son of Polish Holocaust survivors, I am proud of my Jewish heritage as well as my Polish heritage. Part of being proud of your heritage is working to preserve it when that heritage is being besmirched and damaged. Sadly, both of these heritages were wounded by the recently passed Polish law that made it illegal to speak about Polish involvement in the Holocaust.
On Tuesday, the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists (IAJLJ), of which I am president, submitted a brief to the Polish Constitutional Court questioning this law and requesting that the court rule it unconstitutional. This law violated the Polish constitutional principles of freedom of expression and freedom of the press; it criminalized speech, which is anathema to the democratic values of Poland. Also, the law was overly broad, which could allow its enforcement to be misappropriated for ill uses. While I know that this law was passed to protect Poland’s reputation, it could have been used to foment antisemitism and to bring strident criticism and mistrust to Poland.
I am very pleased about the decision of the Polish parliament to cancel this law – only one day after we submitted our petition against the law to the court. Our association will be closely following the completion of the legislative process in Poland in order to continue to advance its position that no legal limitations should be put on researching, exposing or discussing the facts of the Holocaust. In parallel, we will continue to use legal means to combat antisemitism worldwide, as we have always done.
The IAJLJ has never been against Poland, her citizens or her heritage. We do stand against antisemitism, racism and human rights violations. We are against Holocaust deniers, who could have made use of this law to further their ignominious agenda.
There were approximately 3 million Polish Jews murdered in the Holocaust, and many others were brutalized. While the primary responsibility for these horrific crimes rests with Nazi Germany, we cannot, and should not, ignore the indisputable fact that some Poles assisted German Nazis in the extermination of the Jewish population of Poland.
Acknowledging this truth does not in any way lessen the suffering of the Polish people during World War II, nor does it erase all of the good that was done by Poles who did protect their Jewish neighbors and who did fight back against their Nazi occupiers.
Following the war, amid the many tales of the horrors of the Holocaust, there were also many tales of humanity and heroism. Many non-Jewish Polish citizens risked everything they had – including their lives – to protect their Jewish neighbors. Their dedication and sacrifices mean even more in light of the fact that some of their non-Jewish neighbors were against them.
While the IAJLJ disagreed with this law, we understood where it came from. Polish citizens have felt vilified and blamed for the atrocities committed on their soil. Some of the most famous concentration camps, like Auschwitz and Treblinka, were established by Nazi Germany in Poland and are sometimes wrongfully described as “Polish concentration camps.” Today, with a steady stream of commemorators and mourners visiting these sites, Poland feels accused.
The Jewish people know what it is like to be vilified while being victimized; Poland does too. Poland was occupied during the war and the Nazis murdered approximately 1.9 million non-Jewish Polish civilians.
But this law did not protect Poland from blame; instead it made Poland seem as though it had something to hide. It drew international criticism, casting Poland in a bad light. Though it was meant to restore Poland’s reputation, it did the exact opposite.
It was also threatening Poland’s relationships with other nations, such as the US and Israel, both of whom have made it clear that the passage of this law may have brought serious repercussions.
Poland has chosen to reinvigorate its reputation today by allowing for honest historical discourse. Europe is now seeing a resurgence in nationalism, xenophobia and antisemitism. Let Poland be a beacon showing that a past that contains such tragedy and transgression does not need to define the present or the future. A focus on the unadulterated facts of the Holocaust will also shed more light on the many Polish citizens who gave everything they had to fight the Nazis and to protect their Jewish neighbors.
In filing our brief, we represented not just the interest of Holocaust survivors and the Jewish people, but all people. In our brief, we are called “Friends of the Court” – and we are. We are friends of Poland and the Polish people. Overturning this law was certainly in the best interest of Poland, as it protects the nation’s freedom of expression and of media, and it will protect the average citizen who wants to learn and explore.
Moving forward, we hope to see Holocaust education grow – with all the facts.
We hope that we can all work together to ensure that the horrors of the Holocaust are never forgotten.
The writer serves as the president of the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, an organization founded to combat racism, xenophobia, antisemitism and Holocaust denial, and to advance human rights.