Poland: Missing The Point Concerning Contentious New Law
Outraged by the new Polish law? Support it? Poland presented all of us with an important question to consider by the very act of proposing such a law as they just did, making it illegal to talk about Poland as a collaborator with the Nazis rather than one of its victims.
First let me state some basic assumptions on my part:
- Many Polish citizens are antisemitic.
- Many Polish citizens believe Jews are to blame for much that was, and perhaps still is, wrong in Poland.
- A very small proportion of Polish citizens risked their lives to save Jews during WW II.
- Poland was occupied by Nazi Germany and squeezed on the other side by the Russians.
- The government-in-exile tried to warn the allies about what the Nazis were doing on its soil.
- Many Poles were killed and held prisoner by the Nazis and the Soviets.
- This law should never have been proposed.
I have no doubt a great many (most?) of the Polish population wanted us Jews dead and gone, and that there were individual government officials — the ones that were still around — who were antisemitic and collaborated with the Nazis. Given that the government-in-exile tried to alert the allies to what was going on, I wonder what they did to maintain connection with those who remained. And why are they trying to shut down conversation now?
What would you like YOUR government to do if your country finds itself occupied by enemy forces? And if they run away, what kind of accounting would you expect to take place after the enemy will have been overcome?
And this is an important debate: the relationship between the views of the general population and the official stand taken by the government, democratically elected or not, when faced with moral and ethical issues. After all, governments make decisions based upon the nation’s best interests and not because of emotion (one would hope). And this latter point is probably a debatable issue with which to contend as well.
This question is relevant to nations today as many battle with the internal debates between those who support their governments and those who want to bring them down. There is a growing din of “Not in My Name” among sizeable minorities in some countries, highly distressed by the governments elected by their fellow citizens.
We should not avoid this debate. Poland should not avoid this debate. Debating this retrospectively, regarding Poland and the Holocaust, is certainly more comfortable for the non-Poles among us. But even if this was not their intention, Poland raised the issue and should join in.
Can we learn from this history or are we bound to repeat it?