JUSTICE - No. 68

28 No. 68 JUSTICE state. This so-called “history policy” (polityka historyczna), or the official, state-approved, and state-enforced historical narrative, is founded on several historical myths defended by the authorities. Among them are the myth of Polish society’s alleged universal opposition to communism, the cult of the Warsaw uprising of 1944 (not to be confused with the 1943 uprising in the Warsaw ghetto), and the veneration of “cursed soldiers” – anti-communist partisans who opposed the Soviet-backed authorities after 1945. Not one of these issues resonates with the international audience, however. These are the elements of Polish “history policy” destined for internal, domestic, consumption. The only historical myths which raise interest beyond the Polish borders are those related to the Holocaust, the sole universal aspect of Polish history which attracts worldwide attention. Polish authorities would like us to believe that Polish society under the German occupation did all it could to save the Jews and that rescuing Jews was the default position of the Polish masses. It is a fallacy, of course, but no one said that myths and nationalists’ creed need to be rooted in historical evidence. To defend the state-approved version of historical narrative, the Polish state has created several institutions and weaponized them with enormous financial resources. Chief among them is the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN), employing hundreds of historians with an annual budget of more than $100 million. There are also lesser actors, such as the Pilecki Institute, or entire sections of the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, not to mention many GONGOs (government-organized NGOs), which serve as proxies for the authorities in fighting “the slanderers of the good name of the nation.” Historians who specialize in the history of the Holocaust are either being fired, or pushed out from the IPN, while sympathizers of the extreme right are promoted to positions of leadership. The myth of “millions of Poles” helping Jews under the occupation is a typical example of Holocaust distortion. Unlike Holocaust deniers whose entire argument is based on lies, people and institutions engaging in Holocaust distortion mix truths, half-truths, and untruths. It is true, for instance, that some Poles rescued Jews, but it is not true that the phenomenon was widespread. Quite to the contrary, due to antisemitism prevalent across practically all strata of Polish society, righteous Poles were more afraid of their neighbors than they were of the Germans. Helping Jews was perceived by many as an antipatriotic act, and often triggered denunciations. Unfortunately, the Polish state-sponsored policy of Holocaust distortion is a success, at least within Poland’s borders. A series of polls conducted between 1992 and 2020 indicate that an ever-larger percentage of respondents believe that Poles suffered more than the Jews under the occupation. In 2020, more than 70% of Poles polled thought that they suffered equally, or more, than the Jews. The percentage of those who thought that Jews suffered more, declined over the years from 46% to 26% in 2020. Finally, close to 50% of Polish respondents in 2020 associated Auschwitz primarily with Polish, not Jewish suffering.3 These numbers are particularly shocking considering that it was on Polish territory that five million of the six million victims of the Holocaust were put to death, that every second victim of the Holocaust was a Polish citizen, and that all death camps were located within pre-war Polish borders. There are several reasons for the obsessive drive to obfuscate and to distort the history of the Holocaust in Poland. Some of them are related to “Holocaust envy.” When a society is steeped in contemplation of its own suffering and brought up in the tradition of its own national innocence and victimhood, there is little room for recognizing, appreciating, and commemorating the suffering of the “other.” There is even less room for empathy if the suffering of the “other” was caused – even in part – by one’s “own” ethnic or national group. Also, the “memorial battles” gather strength if the recognition of Jewish suffering is thought to “diminish,” or to overshadow, events associated with its own national history. The best example of this on the international scene is the memory of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, which has completely dominated the recognition of the Warsaw uprising of August 1944, an event known to every Polish child. During the last three decades, the Holocaust has become a universal benchmark of human evil and one of the few (if not the only) historical events recognized worldwide. Furthermore, European nations have been forced to reexamine their own role in the Jewish catastrophe. In the West, gradually (and not without strong opposition), a consensus has been reached. The Holocaust, although planned and implemented by the Germans, would not have been possible or reached its scale without local complicity. People in Europe, in a variety of ways and on 3. Adam Leszczyński “Niewiedza Polaków o Zagładzie: Uważają, że cierpieliśmy tak samo, jak Żydzi [NOWE BADANIA]” [Poles’ Lack of Knowledge About the Holocaust. They Think We Suffered as Much as the Jews. New Research], OKO PRESS, Jan. 27, 2021, available at https://oko.press/polowapolakow-usprawiedliwia-wspoludzial-w-zagladzie/