AIJAC has written two separate letters to the Polish Ambassador regarding Poland’s controversial proposed new law regarding statements about the Holocaust.
The Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council conveys its best wishes to you and the people of Poland.
We write in this instance to express our concern at the proposal to amend Polish law to make it illegal to accuse “publicly and against the facts, the Polish nation, or the Polish state, of being responsible or complicit in the Nazi crimes committed by the Third German Reich”.
We fully understand and share the concern that misrepresentations of history can result in misunderstanding of the Nazi genocide of Jews, much of which took place on the soil of occupied Poland. Yet this proposal, as drafted, would, we believe, be detrimental to Poland, Polish-Jewish relations and to vital academic relationships and scholarship.
It is of course true that the erroneous term sometimes used to discuss the Holocaust, “Polish death camps,” is a historical misrepresentation and it is understandable that the Polish government and Sejm are concerned about the effects of this slur on Poland’s reputation. The geographic location of the centre of industrial murder was of course selected by Nazi Germany with no input from any legitimate Polish representatives at a time when the Nazis were also decimating the Polish population during their reign of terror.
Yet despite these legitimate concerns at the way Polish history is understood, we nonetheless note the interpretation by scholars and analysts of the pending Polish legislation pointing out that it may have the consequence of stopping serious inquiry, discussion and informed debate.
The legislation has the potential to criminalise important scholarship directed at understanding the multi-faceted Polish-Jewish relationship, the bravery of Righteous Poles and the despicable behaviour of those who sought personal benefit through collaboration.
Great works of Polish literature – including Czeslaw Milosz’s “Campo di Fiori” – could be found to be unlawful; a great loss to both the Polish people and world literature.
Passing this law will not only limit the Polish people’s ability to have access to the best, highest quality research on their own country and its history, but will also have a negative impact on the perception of the Polish Republic throughout the world.
We ask you to convey our sincere and friendly concerns to your Government.
Mark Leibler AC, National Chairman
Dr Colin Rubenstein AM, Executive Director
I write, with a heavy heart, as I witness the public debate over the proposed Polish law to criminalise acts which discuss the “responsibility” or “co-responsibility” of “the Polish State or the Polish Nation in the crimes of the Third Reich, or any other crimes against humanity or war crimes or crimes against peace during World War Two.”
For more than twenty-five years, I have personally worked closely with Polish community members in Australia to promote better understanding between Polish and Jewish people and Polish and Australian people. I have co-chaired events for visiting Polish personalities and introduced important Polish thinkers to broad audiences in Australia. I have visited Poland a number of times, where I have been involved in dialogues, lectures and meetings designed to enhance understanding and friendship.
With my academic training as an historian, coupled with my interest in Polish literature and culture, I am aware of the complexities and richness of the Polish-Jewish relationship. I am also aware of, and have supported over many years, Polish concerns at inappropriate and offensive mis-attribution to Poles or Poland of crimes, such as the establishment and operation of murder camps, which were committed by Nazi Germany.
That said, I am gravely concerned that this legislation potentially will have consequences which will not affirm, but obscure, historical truth and that it will not result in enhancing the standing of the Polish people but instead bring about disrespect and foster cynicism amongst people who have seen Polish history already censored and distorted by the Nazis and then the Communists.
I request you pass my sincere and serious concern, coming from a friend, to your government.
Jeremy Jones AM, Director of Community & International Affairs