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Warsaw Teachers Defy New ‘Holocaust’ Law in Open Letter
Two history teachers at a small Warsaw high school are taking a stand—at personal risk—against a new law that makes it a crime to say that the Polish nation or Polish state took part in Nazi crimes during the Holocaust.
Shortly before Poland’s president signed the law, teachers Piotr Laskowski and Sebastian Matuszewski penned an open letter to their students. In it, they wrote about the dangers of elevating nationalism over humanity and of the 90 migrants who were desperately trying to reach Europe when they drowned off the coast of Libya on February 2.
On February 6, the day President Andrzej Duda signed the new law, the teachers at J. Kuroń Multicultural High School published their letter in a popular Polish journal of opinion, Gazeta Wyborcza.
“In this letter, as well as in future actions, we are going to break this law,” they wrote. “The concept of the ‘Polish nation’ as well as the institutions of the Polish state (and all other ‘nations’ and states) are co-responsible for the offenses constituting crimes against peace and humanity and for war crimes. ‘Nation’ is a spell capable of turning otherwise non-violent people into unscrupulous murderers convinced of their virtuousness.” They then went on to delineate the Polish state’s agency in committing crimes against Jews during the Holocaust, including the creation of camps and segregation in universities.
Laskowski, a history teacher, and Matuszewski, who teaches the history of philosophy, added that “those in power use the concept of ‘nation’ to offer false pride, a false community, and false protection to those burdened with mortgage…they use it to incite contempt, distrust, and hostility towards ‘strangers,’ to authorize ‘sacred’ egoism, to justify lack of empathy and partiality of views. They use it to suppress the search for truth.”
Violators of the new law face fines as well as up to three years in prison. As widely reported by international media, the law also prohibits saying “Polish death camp” to describe where Jews and others were murdered in Nazi-occupied Poland. While Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust remembrance center and museum, has recognized more than 6,000 Polish Righteous Gentiles who aided Jews, historians widely agree that most Poles were, overall, willing Nazi collaborators. Jews comprised 10 percent of Poland’s population before the Shoah. More than three million Jews—over 90 percent of Polish Jewry—died.
The two men wrote the letter because “we are horrified by what is happening in Poland,” Laskowski said in a phone interview with Hadassah Magazine. “The kind of hostility toward immigrants, the sentiment that we have to protect this national community, is somehow rooted in” the attitudes that led to Polish complicity in the Holocaust, which he said was never taught properly in Poland.
Holocaust education is marginal in Polish government schools, according to Laskowski. In their letter, the teachers stressed that “ ‘Nation’ is what Polish authorities keep cramming into our heads and pushing down our throats. In the new history curriculum for high schools—after all, not so different from the old one—on a single page…the word ‘nation’ appears six times, the word ‘fatherland’ five times.” There is just one reference to ‘other’ nations.
The private high school where they teach requires students to study two foreign languages in addition to English. Yiddish is one of the options, and theirs may be the only high school in Poland to offer it, said Laskowski.
Karo Wegner, 19, is a former student at the school who is now in university but returns once a week to work on special projects. Wegner has hung their letter over her desk, she said in a Skype interview, and sent it around the world to people she met at summer Yiddish programs in Vilnius and New York. She described the letter as “empowering.”
“You feel that there are other people who think there is something wrong going on,” she said. ”I’d like people both in Poland and all over the world to notice that there is such a voice” countering “this nationalism, which is happening not only in Poland.
“What scares me about nationalists is that there is always ‘we’ and the others,” added Wegner, who first studied Yiddish at the high school and continues to do so through online courses offered by the Workmen’s Circle. “There is no trying to understand the others. That’s a problem. We are all people and I don’t see why we should fight with each other. It’s not good for any of us.”
Like Wegner, neither Laskowski nor Matuszewski is Jewish. In addition to their teaching positions, both serve as editors of the Ringelblum Archive, the trove of 30,000 documents written by Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto detailing every aspect of life as experienced by the 400,000 plus Jews who lived there from 1940 to 1943. The documents have been published in 37 Polish-language volumes, Laskowski said. The first English-language volume was published this year.
For Laskowski, editing the archive is “a kind of duty to the people who died. If you live in Warsaw, you become aware that there was a Jewish community that was part of this society and murdered on this soil,” he told Hadassah Magazine. “You feel obliged to not let people forget.”
The response to their letter has been “unexpectedly warm,” he said, both from young people and older Poles. Except for one article, there has been little response from state-sponsored media or the government itself, Laskowski noted. The open letter had fewer negative hate comments than they expected, he said.
With the new law and history curriculum, which devotes very little to the Holocaust, the Polish government wants to “enforce their own narrative,” Laskowski said, a narrative that emphasizes Polish heroism. “It is a kind of hysterical patriotic discourse. They are striving to prevent people from telling the truth about Polish complicity in the Shoah. That is something I strongly believe has to be told.”
Krzysztof Nowak says
Lets set the record straight. Poland was invaded by NAZI-GERMANY and the SOVIET UNION in Sept. 1939. Auschwitz Concentration Camp, as other Concentration camps during WWII were GERMAN, build by GERMANY, paid by GERMANS, i e I G FARBEN. Auschwitz was build for the purpose to exterminate POLES. Auschwitz-Birkenau was build two years later for the purpose to exterminate JEWS. Twelve million people were killed as a result of the Holocaust. Six million of them were Jews. WHO were the other SIX-MILLION? THREE million Polish-Jews were killed during the HOLOCAUST. THREE million Poles were killed during WWII by the NAZI-GERMANS. Three million Poles were killed by the SOVIETS. There are over six-thousand-six-hundred memorials at YAD VASHEM dedicated to POLES who risked their lives under a GERMAN penalty of death to rescue Jews. (There are only sixteen thousand of these memorials). There were thousands of Jews serving in the NAZI-GERMAN army that were officers. There were thousands of Jews in the Jewish Ghetto Police, there was a Jewish Council of Elders in the ghettos, there were thousands of “kapos” informing on their fellow Jews to the Nazis. There were “kapos” informing on the POLES that were hiding JEWS. There were thousands of Jews in the SOVIET NKVD-KGB that persecuted, tortured, killed, members of Polih underground during and after WWII who saved JEWS from the Holocaust. There were Polish couriers that informed the Ally Forces about persecution of the Jews in the NAZI-GERMAN death camps. (Witold Pilecki, Jan Karski, Jerzy Lerski…) to no avail. FDR and his administration didn’t believe them that such “atrocities” could happen. Allies refused to bomp railroad tracks leading to the camps. USA returned a ship full of JEWISH refugees back to NAZI-GERMANY. France was officially “shipping” Jews to concentration camps while Polish government in exile established an underground movement to AID JEWS known as ZEGOTA. I can go on for much more, but this should suffice.
Lawrence M Bell says
How many surviving Polish Jews were slaughtered by Poles after WWII, upon their return to Poland, in pogroms? The answer is many.
I suggest that this commentator view the nine-hour Claude Lanzman 1985 documentary entitled “Shoah” to get an authentic view of the Poles’ attitude toward Jews during and after WWII.
Efraim Zuroff, the world’s leading Nazi hunter, charged this week.
“There are two major components of Holocaust distortion. One is to hide or minimize the role of local collaborators. The other one is to claim that Communism is just as bad as Nazism, and that Communism should be categorized as genocide,” said Zuroff, who wrote his doctorate on the history of US-Jewish responses to the Holocaust.
Some Eastern European countries have laws prohibiting people from denying the Communist “genocide.”
Zuroff argues this is anti-Semitic and possibly worse than the Polish bill. “Because if Communism is categorized as genocide, it means that Jews committed genocide. Jewish communists were among those who committed the crimes of the Communist regime. If Jews committed genocide, how can we complain about their committing genocide,” he said
How many Polish Christians were tortured and murdered by Jewish Communist like Jakub Berman, Roman Romkowski, Julia Brystiger “Bloddy Luna”, Anatol Fejgin, Jozef Swiatlo “Butcher” Jozef Rozanski, Hilary Minc, between 1945 and 1952? ????????????????