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Guest Editorial: Poland’s backwards law on Holocaust legacy
The government of Poland is in the process of passing ugly legislation that makes it a crime to refer to any Polish role in the Holocaust or in any other anti-Jewish actions that took place in Poland during World War II.
Every country that exists almost certainly has ugly actions as part of its history. The question then becomes, how does a country deal with whatever occurred?
It is generally not disputed that Germany, Italy and Japan started World War II, which ended up claiming an estimated 61 million dead. Each of those countries has sought and more or less found some means of getting past that bad streak of history. Germany is the model for reckoning with the past, through decades of unflinching recognition of the Holocaust. In the migrant crisis of recent years, Germany has bent over backwards to extend a welcoming hand to people fleeing war and persecution. There have been political consequences from such a level of inmigration, as Chancellor Angela Merkel is finding as she seeks to form a coalition to extend her role in German governance, but Germany took refugee resettlement as a moral imperative.
Italy has pretty much succeeded in just getting the rest of Europe and the world to forget about its fascist period under Benito Mussolini, when it invaded Ethiopia and was allied with Hitler’s Germany and Japan in that epoch’s axis of evil. Japan has had a harder time, finding itself still dealing with the issue of “comfort women” with South Korea and whether or not its prime ministers should visit the Yasukuni shrine, which honors military leaders who are considered by some to have been war criminals.
No one is saying that the Poles agreed with Nazi German atrocities that took place in Poland. At the same time, history shows clearly that there was anti-Semitism, the cooperation of some Poles in German racial crimes in Poland, and even pogroms in Poland during and before the war.
Americans cannot be exactly proud of some of what we have done during our history. One example is slavery and subsequent foot-dragging and general national acquiescence in racial discrimination in this country, to this day. Another is America’s generally abominable treatment of Native Americans. Would we wish to put into place legislation forbidding discussion and scholarship dealing with the slaughter by the U.S. military at Wounded Knee or behavior toward the Osage people in Oklahoma?
What the Poles need to do at this point is accept what happened, look at it with their eyes wide open, write and talk about it, acknowledge its shamefulness and take steps to see that it never happens again, and that whatever traces of it remain in vogue now are labeled for what they are and eliminated from national culture.
By the way, if they don’t, and the European Union acts to reflect prevailing European views on such subjects, the EU will be absolutely in order in punishing the Polish government by reducing aid and its status and respect within the EU. Denying or hushing up history cannot be tolerated or rewarded, particularly this kind of history. Populism cannot be allowed to become racism.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Feb. 6