Snyder, Don: Poland poised to put ‘bad’ historians in prison

Don Snyder

Poland poised to put “bad” historians in prison‘, The Forward (New York), 2 September 2016 updated

Poland’s parliament is considering a law which would make it a criminal offence to implicate Poland, or the Polish people, in the crimes of the German Third Reich.

“It is not our mothers, not our fathers, who are responsible for the crimes of the Holocaust, caused by German and Nazi criminals in occupied [Poland],” Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro said at an August 16 press conference. “Our duty is to defend the truth and dignity of the Polish state, and the Polish nation, but also of our fathers, our mothers, our grandfathers.”

Polish historians of the Holocaust have condemned official efforts to deny or downplay Polish murders of Jews. But at a meeting in November last year the Polish President told representatives from museums and other cultural institutions ‘to galvanize Polish nationalism’ and ‘discard narratives that shamed Poland’.

In Poland also, a recent report told of the plans of the Polish government to redirect the mission of a new museum at Gdansk away from an international focus and back to a concentration on a small Polish victory which could be given a nationalist gloss. (The battle on this continues: see Statement of Advisory Board of the Museum. Still more on this from New York Times, 9 November 2016.) Readers will also recall recent threats by the Turkish government against academics, presumably including historians.

Honest History has a collection here about governments manipulating history. ‘History’, said the Canadian historian Margaret Macmillan, ‘should not be written to make the present generation feel good but to remind us that human affairs are complicated’.

Honest History has noted the Australian War Memorial’s Australia-centric parochialism. See, for example, here from 2014 and more recently Honest History’s Alternative Guide to the Australian War Memorial, which has been downloaded more than 1560 times since Anzac Day. A current marketing slogan of the War Memorial is ‘Their Spirit. Our Pride.’ Another version is ‘Their Story. Our Pride.’

Note also how in Australia in 1995, the 5oth anniversary of the end of World War II, the Minister in charge preferred to steer away from ‘the bad parts of what happened’. Seems to be something of a pattern here.

Update 6 February 2018: Polish law about sanitising references to death camps and related matters.

David Stephens



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