Yad Vashem historians respond to the joint statement of the Governments of Poland and Israel concerning the revision of the January 26, 2018, amendment to Poland’s Act on the Institute of National Remembrance

Monday, February 12, 2018 – The Freeman Family Foundation Holocaust Education Centre was established by a community of Holocaust survivors more than 20 years ago. Their intention was to protect and share the history of their experiences during the Shoah—the Holocaust with students of all ages and with the community-at-large. Many of our survivors have been interviewed and have recorded their stories in both video and written format. Graciously, they have also shared their  artefacts. Each one of these precious possessions tells a story—of loss, of suffering, and of courage. Many of our Winnipeg survivors originate from Poland. Some were protected and hidden by courageous, outstanding individuals, whose acts of bravery have been gratefully noted, by those whom they saved, by the local Jewish community and by organizations such as Yad Vashem. However, we must recognize that there were also very difficult stories that we cannot ignore: of those who were bystanders and of those who actively participated in the persecution and murder of their former Jewish neighbours and friends. This was not limited to Poland.

It is therefore, with tremendous concern and disappointment that, as Director of the Freeman Family Foundation Holocaust Education Centre, I note the recent decision by the President of Poland to sign into law, the amendment to the act on the Institute of National Remembrance. This amendment brings with it the possibility of a government-imposed fine or up to a three-year term of imprisonment to persons, both within and outside of Poland, who “ascribe to the Polish People or to the Polish state responsibility or co-responsibility for the Nazi crimes committed by the Third Reich.”

No reasonably thinking person should use the term, “Polish death camp.” Death camps on Polish soil were of course Nazi German camps on occupied-Polish soil. Nor was there any Polish political collaboration with Nazi Germany. In fact, Nazi Germany looked upon the Polish people as one of the groups it wished to eliminate. The law is merely a thinly veiled attempt at historical revisionism.  It endangers freedom of research for scholars, freedom of speech in general, and sadly—one must ask if our Shoah survivors and their freedom to share their own memories are included in this legislation.

I urge the President Duda to annul this amendment. I would ask him, in the name of all Jewish Shoah victims and survivors, including my own family, to safeguard not only the precious legacy of the brave Poles whose stories are preserved as Righteous Among the Nations, but to also face the more difficult chapters of Polish history during World War II.

Belle Jarniewski
Director, Freeman Family Foundation Holocaust Education Centre