Importance of teaching history factually

Polish President Andrzej Duda announces his decision to sign a legislation penalizing certain statements about the Holocaust, in Warsaw, Poland, Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)

A new law passed in Poland on Wednesday incriminates anyone who claims Poland collaborated with Nazi Germany to commit vicious crimes, such as those in the Holocaust. “The legislation criminalizes any mention of Poles ‘being responsible or complicit in the Nazi crimes committed by the Third German Reich,’” according to Time.

This aims to address the saying “Polish death camps” when referring to camps built by Nazi Germany in the Holocaust, such as Treblinka and Auschwitz Birkenau. This legislation has brought about a great deal of criticism from Israel and the U.S, who are advocating for freedom of speech in Poland and the government’s inability to restrict this civil right.

The Polish government’s main goal is to ensure awareness that Poland did not cooperate with the Nazis in committing brutal crimes during the Holocaust, which is neither entirely true nor false. From a historical perspective, Poland was under Nazi occupation from 1939 until 1945. The Polish government was under German occupation, but there was no official collaboration with Axis powers, unlike other occupied territories at this time.

There was, however, advocacy for the Nazi occupation of Poland by German citizens of Poland. It was due to this movement that Poland became known for its provocative racist treatment of its citizens during the war, so it is reasonable to claim they, as individuals, can be held responsible for Nazi crimes. For the Nazis to commit such mass annihilation, there must have been a certain level of cooperation by Polish citizens; otherwise, it would have been impossible to collect and marginalize their Jewish population. However, the resistance movement in Poland was the biggest in Europe. The military fought underground against occupiers from the Third Reich rather than collaborate with the Nazi militia.

The legislation signed in Poland is causing a distortion of historical fact because it limits the spectrum of opinion that can be present in dialogue about the Holocaust. It also restrains freedom of speech, which sends a very threatening message to citizens regarding the democratic nature of their government.

This law also sends an anti-Semitic message through its seeming attempt to silence Holocaust survivors from Poland. Manfred Goldberg, a Polish holocaust survivor, shared his take on the newly signed legislation: “In the name of freedom of speech, we appear to ignore this lesson of history.” In other words, Goldberg argues the law limits freedom of speech and causes the gradual fadeaway of the Holocaust’s historical importance.

In order to avoid a historical catastrophe and violent interracial discrimination, it is crucial to allow unrestricted expression of political opinion and open teaching of history throughout Poland. In the words of Manfred Goldberg, “If we don’t learn from history, we may be fated to repeat it, and I’m afraid we are on our way to doing just that.”


Keren Blaunstein is a weekly columnist for The Daily Campus.  She can be reached via email at keren.blaunstein@uconn.edu.