The law change is wel­come and it’s time for dam­age lim­i­ta­tion

The Jewish Chronicle - - WORLD NEWS - BY ROSIE WHITEHOUSE Rosie Whitehouse is re­search­ing the ex­pe­ri­ences of Holo­caust sur­vivors

AF­TER FIVE months of con­tro­versy, the Pol­ish gov­ern­ment is back-track­ing on its “Holo­caust Law”. How­ever, the change comes only af­ter dam­age has al­ready been done.

The leg­is­la­tion mak­ing it a crim­i­nal of­fence to sug­gest that the coun­try bore re­spon­si­bil­ity for crimes com­mit­ted by Nazi Ger­many and im­pos­ing a max­i­mum three-year prison term for re­fer­ring to Nazi Ger­man death camps as “Pol­ish” was in­tro­duced ear­lier this year. Crit­ics said the law was un­en­force­able but that is not rea­son for the gov­ern­ment’s change of tac­tics.

Is­rael’s Yad Vashem Holo­caust re­mem­brance au­thor­ity claimed that the law pro­motes Holo­caust de­nial and lim­its de­bate on the part that some Poles played in the Holo­caust. In re­al­ity, the leg­is­la­tion al­lowed ex­trem­ists on both sides to dom­i­nate the de­bate.

But the facts are not as black and white as the cy­ber war­riors on Twit­ter would like to make out.

No one has worked harder to get Poles to face up to the re­al­ity of what hap­pened in their coun­try dur­ing and im­me­di­ately af­ter the war than cam­paigner Bog­dan Bialek.

For the past 30 years, he has run an ed­u­ca­tional cam­paign to en­cour­age the peo­ple of Kielce, in south­ern Poland, to recog­nise the role their town played in the bloody pogrom of 1946.

When I asked what went wrong with Pol­ish-Jewish re­la­tions in the 1930s and 1940s, he quickly pointed out that all of Europe was ex­tremely an­tisemitic at the time.

Mr Bialek said what was needed is recog­ni­tion of the horror in­flicted on Poles dur­ing the war: “Vi­o­lence be­came an ev­ery­day thing in Poland and was nor­malised. We can see in veter­ans re­turn­ing from Afghanistan and Iraq how ex­po­sure to vi­o­lence changes be­hav­iour, and in Poland we see this on a mass scale.

“Those veter­ans meet with psy­chol­o­gists but there was no psy­chol­o­gist for the Pol­ish peo­ple.”

Mr Bialek said he stepped into that void and Kielce is now de­void of an­tisemitic graf­fiti, has a low in­ci­dence of racist crimes and lo­cal foot­ball fans do not en­gage in racist chants as they do in the rest of the coun­try. But the Holo­caust law, Mr Bialek added, “was a huge mis­take that ex­ac­er­bated [poor] Pol­ish-Jewish re­la­tions in spite of the in­ten­tions of its au­thors.”

He said it had se­ri­ous so­cial reper­cus­sions be­cause it “en­cour­aged xeno­pho­bic, an­tisemitic and racist at­ti­tudes.” But he added it did not af­fect his ed­u­ca­tional cam­paign — and herein lies the prob­lem.

The de­bate on the Holo­caust law has sadly de­tracted from the re­al­ity of what is hap­pen­ing in Poland, where many in­di­vid­u­als and or­gan­i­sa­tions have taken pos­i­tive steps in re­cent years to im­prove Pol­ish-Jewish re­la­tions. The new mu­se­ums be­ing built at the sites of the for­mer death camps of Kul­mhof and So­bi­bor are ev­i­dence of the ef­forts to record the his­tor­i­cal facts of what hap­pened dur­ing the war.

An­drzej Pawluszek, an ad­viser to the Pol­ish Prime Min­is­ter, has rightly pointed out that, while an­ti­semitism has risen in Western Europe, it has de­clined by 40 per cent in Poland.

There are no armed guards out­side the coun­try’s syn­a­gogues and Jewish cul­ture is re­garded as trendy and al­ter­na­tive. None of which makes an ex­cit­ing truth to tweet for rad­i­cal war­riors.

An­tisemitic in­ci­dents have de­clined in Poland

PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

Ma­teusz Mo­raw­iecki vis­it­ing a Jewish fam­ily mu­seum in Jan­uary

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