Don’t Allow Survivors to be Silenced

The Holocaust must never be forgotten.

The fight against anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial continues; luckily for those who believe in truth and justice, the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists (IAJLJ) is on their side. Back in June I wrote a piece concerning the IAJLJ and their efforts to combat the so-called “Polish Holocaust Law” in Poland. They had submitted a brief to the Polish Constitutional Court demanding that the Court overturn the law, which criminalized the discussion of Polish involvement and complicity in the Holocaust.

One could have faced up to three years in prison and a fine for saying that the Polish nation colluded with the Nazis. For instance, one could have been jailed for using the term “Polish concentration camp,” a misnomer because, although many camps were located in Poland, at the time the Polish government was in exile and the country was occupied by Nazi Germany, with the camps being set up and run by the Nazis.

After many protested the law and the IAJLJ filed a brief asking that the law be repealed, the Polish government eliminated criminal penalties for violators. However, one can still be sued for discussing Polish complicity in the Holocaust; one can even be sued by Poland’s Institute for National Remembrance.

Thankfully, the IAJLJ is still fighting this fight. On Sept. 4, the IAJLJ submitted a formal request to Poland’s leaders asking that official guidelines be drafted and dispersed to ensure that the law as it stands cannot be abused to silence survivors, students, researchers or journalists, among other groups.

This law has been an egregious affront to free speech and to Holocaust research. It is an insult to every Holocaust survivor, who, after suffering the horrors of that genocide, must now fear being sued for simply sharing their recollections. Because there are many — too many — stories of Poles handing their Jewish neighbors over to the Nazis and even assisting the Nazis in killing the Jews. Polish citizens worked in the concentration camps and they betrayed their fellow countrymen simply over a difference of religion.

This of course does not erase all the good done by many Polish citizens. While there were many instances of cruelty, there were also many instances of kindness, bravery and heroism. More people from Poland have been named “Righteous among the Nations” for their work in saving Jews than in any other country. There are so many uplifting stories of Polish citizens hiding Jews they had never even met before, risking their own lives and the lives of their families, to save these people, who they sometimes hid for years.

And the abominable behavior of some Polish citizens does not negate the fact that Poland suffered greatly during the Holocaust. Under occupation with their government in exile, Polish citizens were brutalized and millions of non-Jewish Poles were murdered by the Nazis, and many others died of disease and starvation.

Just as all of this is fact, so is the fact that not every Pole was “Righteous among the Nations.” To try to cover up this truth with threats of legal liability is disturbing. The facts are the facts and you cannot change history.

I am cautiously optimistic that Poland will respond favorably and that this will be another IAJLJ triumph. After all, the IAJLJ’s success in June was just another in a long line of victories from the organization, which has been working since 1969 to use its members’ legal expertise to change the world for the better — for all people, not just Jews.

And ensuring Holocaust research and discussion remains unabridged does help all people. We are living in a time full of division, when it seems that so many people choose to focus on our differences rather than our similarities. Nationalism had been on the rise in many countries, bringing with it a fear of “the other.” If we allow people to re-write history, we risk forgetting. And forgetting leads to repeating. “Never again” is for all of humanity, not just the Jews. We must remember and continue talking about the Holocaust in order to save lives in the future.

Comments
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Robert Moore
Robert Moore

Blaming "others" for people's problems is the oldest trick in the book of politics. Whenever people are pushed, it's very easy to convince them that the people who don't look like them, don't act like them, don't worship where they worship, don't have the same place of birth they do, etc. etc. are the culprits to all of their problems.

The old parable of "first they came for the Jews..." is apt: there's no end to people's ability to define "other" and then proceed to turn them into scapegoats for whatever problems that may arise.

The solution--the only real, long-term solution--is enshrined in the founding document of the United States: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal...".

This statement of principle says that all people, by virtue of them being people, are equal and thus deserving of natural Rights.

It means that Jews and Christians have the same natural Rights.

It means that whites and blacks have the same natural Rights.

It means somebody born near the southern border of the US have the same natural Rights as somebody born a few hundred yards to the South.

And the founding principle of the United States is to uphold and defend those Rights the best we can.

We should never forget the Holocaust.

We should never forget what caused it: a dictator who took charge of a down-trodden county and blamed "others".

We should never forget what defeated it: the United States, and it's principle of the Natural Rights of all of the world's people.