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Controversy over the 2018 Polish legislation regarding falsely accusing the Polish Nation (naród) or the Republic of Poland (państwo) of crimes committed by the Nazis

By March 18, 2018November 17th, 2022No Comments14 min read

By Frank J. Dmuchowski

On February 1, 2018 the Polish Senate passed a bill which amends the 1998 legislation of the Institution of National Remembrance (IPN) by criminalizing the behavior of anyone “Whoever claims publicly and contrary to facts, that the Polish Nation (naród) or the Republic of Poland (państwo) is responsible or co-responsible for Nazi-crimes committed by the Third Reich…or by other felonies that constitute crimes against peace, crimes against humanity or war crimes, or whoever grossly diminishes the responsibility of the true perpetrators of said crimes shall be liable for fines or imprisonment of up to three years.”(The legislation makes allowance for issues related to historical research and artistic expression.)

This legislation was signed into law by Polish President Duda on February 6, 2018 who also referred it to the Polish Constitutional Tribune for additional review.
The language that was used in the 2018 IPN legislation has been interpreted by some to mean that individual Poles or Polish citizens who were involved with the Nazi would be protected by the amended legislation. According to the IPN (see below) and Poland’s governing leadership this interpretation is not true and there never was an intent to whitewash individual collaboration with the Nazis. However, this did not prevent the accusation that Poland was engaged in Holocaust denial from becoming an international issue.

The focal point for what was becoming an increasingly difficult situation involved the governments of the Republic of Poland and the government of the State of Israel. Seeing how the situation was developing, the Jan Karski Foundation with the participation of the last living survivors of the Poles recognized by Yad Vashem as among the Righteous crafted and sent on February 26, 2018 a letter addressed to the Prime Minister of each nation and the Head of the Knesset in Israel and the Marshal of the Sejm in Poland.

The letter from the Polish Righteous was successful in creating the condition for dialogue and clarification regarding the amended Polish legislation. The first of what will require several meetings took place in Tel Aviv on Thursday March 1, 2018. The Polish team was led by Deputy Foreign Minister Bartosz Cichocki and the Israeli team was led by Foreign Ministry director-general Yuval Rotem. The next meeting will most likely take place in Warsaw.

The purpose of this article is to present you with the entire February 26, 2018 letter of the Polish Righteous encouraging dialogue between Poland and Israel. Additionally included is the entire March 5, 2018 document of the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) on “the criminal nature of the German occupation of Poland from 1939-1945” which among other topics deals very directly with the issue of guilt by individuals who collaborated with the Nazis. In this way the IPN document directly addresses concerns which are related to the intent of some of the language in the 2018 amendment of the IPN legislation. Certainly, for readers of this article there may be discussion as to what should or should not have been included – more of something and less of something else etc. However, one must start somewhere, however difficult the topic.

Even though it makes for a longer article by including full texts you are in a better position to understand each important document without the filter of abridgement. In the future there will no doubt be other documents which may provide additional helpful insights in what is a very difficult and important topic.
Text of the letter from Jan Karski Foundation with signatures of 50 Surviving Polish Righteous dated February 26, 2018:
He who saves a single life, saves the entire world

Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of the State of Israel
Mr. Mateusz Morawiecki, Prime Minister of the Republic of Poland
Ms. Juli-Joel Edelstein, Head of the Knesset
Mr. Marek Kuchciński, Marshal of the Sejm of the Republic of Poland

Appeal of the Polish Righteous Among the Nations, Honored by Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, to the Governments and Parliaments of Israel and Poland, and to the Jewish and Polish Nations.
We, the living Righteous, representing the Polish six thousand eight hundred fifty Righteous Among the Nations appeal to the governments and parliaments of Israel and Poland to return to the path of dialogue and reconciliation.
During World War Il, we witnessed the Holocaust of the Jews and the murder of Poles by Germans. Six million Polish citizens were killed, including three million Polish Jews. Despite the incredible losses, the Polish nation survived, but the Jewish community in Poland ceased to exist. During those horrible times, when those who helped the Jewish citizens faced the death penalty, many took up the challenge and chose to help anyway. Hundreds of Poles paid with their lives for their decision to show kindness and responsibility for their persecuted fellow citizens.
We ask you not to re-write history. The worst tragedy in the history of our nations was written once and for all during the darkest hour of the Nazi German occupation. We were all victims, and we have all been carrying this burden to this day. There were also—as in every nation—ignoble Poles. They acted on their own behalf, not on behalf of the Polish state. Still, they were Poles. And we too were afraid of them.
Adolf Hitler’s murderous policy led to the creation—under the order of German occupiers—of concentration and death camps within the territory of German-occupied Poland and the territory of the Third Reich, in Auschwitz-Birkenau, Sobibor, Bełżec, Treblinka, Mauthausen-Gusen, Gross-Rosen, Ravensbrück, and many other places. It was the Germans who destroyed the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943 after the Ghetto Uprising, and later the whole city of Warsaw, Poland’s capital, during the Warsaw Uprising of 1944, murdering ca. 180,000 Poles.
We do not consent to the escalation of the conflict between Jews and Poles that we are witnessing today. We plead that our two nations, bonded by almost one thousand years of shared history, continue to build an alliance and a future in Poland, Israel, Europe, and America, founded on friendship, solidarity, and truth.
We, the Polish Righteous, who carry the burden of eye-witnessed truth about the Holocaust along with the Jews, its victims, ask everybody for empathy, judiciousness, and thoughtfulness when creating laws, for responsible media coverage, and for honest and independent historical research. Only then can the issues that need to be explained, be explained. We ask for dialogue and kindness.

Warsaw, February 26, 2018

On behalf of the remaining living Polish Righteous:
Anna Stupnicka-Bando, Józef Walaszczyk, Irena Senderska-Rzońca, Tadeusz Stankiewicz, Maria Augustyn, Krystyna Dańko, Teresa Dietrich, Alicja Drzał, Władysława Dudziak, Jadwiga Gowrych, Mirosława Gruszczyńska, Zofia Jadwiszczok, Maksymilian Jarosz, Lucja Jurczak, Stanisława Kac, Wanda Kołomijska, Krystyna Kowalska, Janusz Kowalski, Anna Kozmińska, Marianna Krasnodębska, Stefan Krusiński, Zofia Krzyżanowska, Anna Krzyżowska, Helena Kusmierz, Anna Lewandowska, Witold Lisowski, Zbigniew Mańkowski, Janina Mazur, Andrzej Mikołajków, Leszek Mikołajków, Maria Nowak, Waclaw Nowiński, Ireneusz Rajchowski, Lech Rosciszewski, Janina Rosciszewska-Krawczyk, Janina Różecka, Aurelia Rudyk, Zofia Siemieńska, Barbara Strzelecka, Alicja Szczepaniak-Schnepf, , Bogdan Szymański, Anna Szymczyk, Stanisława Sliwińska, Helena Troszczyńska, Jadwiga Wolf, Krystyna Wisniewska, Ryszard Witkowski, Ryszard Zieliński, Eugenia Złotko, Janina Zwolicka.

* * *
Text of the statement “Standpoint of the Institute of National Remembrance – (regenerated on March 5, 2018) on the criminal nature of the German occupation of Poland 1939-1945:”
“The Holocaust was a state enterprise of the German Reich. Its implementation, course, time, as well as the selection of tools and crime scenes were the result of the decisions issued by state organs of the German Reich.

The German Reich could implement the Holocaust in Poland only after the aggression on and destruction of the independent Republic of Poland.

(**Republic of Poland did not capitulate to Hitler’s demands and did not collaborate)
(Author’s Note: parenthesized double asterisked headings represent my effort to make this lengthy document easier to read and cite)
The Republic of Poland did not accept any concessions to the demands of Adolf Hitler. As the first country in the world, it mounted armed resistance to the German Reich in 1939. It was conquered after a lonely fight, abandoned by its English and French allies, crushed as a result of the co-operation of two totalitarian regimes: German and Soviet.
The Republic of Poland never undertook capitulation talks with the Germans, having remained a militant side for the entire period of the war. Never did it consent to the genocidal practices of the occupiers. Neither did it leave the allied side even for one second of World War II. The state authorities of the Republic of Poland in exile directed the Polish armed forces to fight against Germany on the European and African fronts. They also governed the Polish Underground State they managed to recreate in a country under hostile occupation.
The German Reich looked for collaborators of crimes against European Jews. In situations when whole countries collaborated with it, as in the case of France, the Reich widely used their help in organizing the genocide of European Jews. The Republic of Poland remained a declared enemy of the German Reich – its authorities never even considered participating in any form of collaboration with the national-socialist power.

The totalitarian German Reich, exercising absolute power over a subjugated society, enforced the policy of terror and enslavement. The German Reich imposed criminal provisions of German law on the whole community of enslaved citizens of the Republic of Poland. It exercised power through segregating individual groups of the population. The Germans announced their nation as a “master race.” The incapacitated Poles were thought of as people of the second category, exposed to the most cruel forms of repression. Jews were treated even worse – they were refused any legal protection and were later appointed the role of the first nation condemned to physical annihilation by the German Reich.

(**German Reich placed Jews in special ghettos and there were some Polish collaborators)

The German Reich enclosed the Jews in specially separated city districts (ghettos). Under the threat of death, it forbade them to leave these areas arbitrarily. Under the threat of the death penalty the German Reich forbade Poles any form of help that might be offered to Jews hiding outside the ghettos.
By enforcing ruthless power in the ghettos and outside the ghettos, the German Reich sought various groups of people who, in exchange for special treatment, would become tools used to execute criminal orders. It found such collaborators among the Polish population outside the ghettos and among the Jewish population in the ghettos. For its own purposes, the German Reich established new German police formations from among Poles (“blue” police) and in the ghettos from among Jews (Judicher Ordnungsdienst). Like every totalitarian state, the German Reich made extensive use of collaborators and informers. It protected those who, through denunciations and loyalty to the imposed German legal regulations, gave vent to criminal instincts or wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to obtain material goods.

(**Actions of Polish population regarding hiding fellow Jewish citizens)
In areas outside the ghettos, part of the Polish population showed acts of extreme courage by providing help and hiding Jewish fellow citizens. These were illegal actions under the law of the German Reich – heroes who took such actions were exposing themselves to death, often exposing their families’ lives as well. They were not the majority – in the circumstances of terror the majority always tries to survive while remaining calm in the face of imposed power. The instincts of survival, focused on the support of relatives and not strangers, were also displayed by the majority of the Jewish population in the ghettos. In light of the frightened and passive majority of the population, living in the world of the occupant’s orders, the attitudes of heroism always stand out as a model for imitation.

In a society dominated by totalitarian violence, illegal activities, including those aimed at regaining independence or social resistance (including help for Jews who were being hidden) are the domain of only the most courageous part of society. Similarly, in the ghettos, only a small group of Jewish residents took up underground resistance activities. As mentioned before, due to the fact that activities described above were illegal, they had to be kept secret not only from the totalitarian authorities but also from other residents. Without this, no resistance, no underground or opposition movement would have been able to survive.

(**Polish Underground State and the Jewish resistance movement executed collaborators)
Most people – in both the ghettos and outside them – were exposed to ruthless German terror. Even a single secret informer or overt collaborator of the German authorities was enough to paralyze entire communities with fear. Outside the ghettos, German regulations prohibiting Jews from staying in these areas generated opportunities for such activities. In order to achieve personal gain, part of the population tried to take advantage of the criminal circumstances created by the totalitarian state. An ardent part of the police formations created by the German Reich outside and inside the ghettos took an active part in crimes committed on fellow citizens and confreres. All such actions (including denunciations of Jews in hiding and Poles who were hiding them) were acts of betrayal of the Republic of Poland.

Even during the war, conditions permitting, the Polish Underground State performed death sentences on such functionaries, and the Jewish resistance movement did so in the ghettos. The Republic of Poland – also through the authorities of the Polish Underground State – warned all collaborators of the German Reich against criminal responsibility, even after Poland regains independence.
Poland repeatedly alarmed the world about German crimes. In the discussion on the Holocaust, the words of the Prime Minister of the Polish Republic, Gen. Sikorski, uttered in New York on 16 December 1942, remain valid. It was he who appealed to the Allies who were still passive in view of the enormity of these crimes:

In order to visualize the terrifying massacre of Jews, you ought to imagine, for example, the entire area of Manhattan being fenced off inside the ghetto walls, behind which all Jews from the western hemisphere are imprisoned and gradually and methodically annihilated in groups of several thousand a day by machine gun salvos, poisoned in gas chambers or killed by means of electric current. At the same time, referring to the documents of the Polish underground, he said: The number of Jews killed has reached one million and is increasing every day. Everyone is being killed, the rich, the poor, the old, women, men, youth, babies. All of these people are guilty of having been born to a Jewish nation condemned to be destroyed by Hitler. That is why we Poles, Catholics, must speak up. We do not want to be Pilates. We cannot actively counteract German murders. We cannot do anything, save anyone, but we strongly protest from the depth of our hearts, taken over by pity, indignation and terror.

(**IPN’s commitment to stigmatize any collaborators with the Third Reich, Soviet Union and Post-War Communist State)

The authorities of the Republic of Poland have never intended to protect perpetrators of crimes – regardless of their nationality. All Poles who took part in the crimes of the German Reich were treated as those who compromised civil duties during the war. Nothing in this matter and in these assessments, has changed since the war, up to the times of contemporary free Poland.
The Institute of National Remembrance has always considered, considers and shall consider it its duty to stigmatize their cooperation with Germany, and to publish facts related to it. Nationality should not be a determining factor in protecting criminals and denouncers in Poland. The Institute of National Remembrance has consistently applied and will apply the same measure to the criminals and collaborators of the totalitarian German Reich, as to the criminals and collaborators of the totalitarian Soviet Union and the post-war communist state. There is no reason why any act of cooperation of a Polish citizen against fellow citizens should be subject to any protection.

(**IPN’s commitment to protect the memory of victims)

The Institute is committed to cherish and protect the memory of millions of Polish, Jewish and other victims of totalitarianism – regardless of the provenience of criminals, regardless of their nationality. At the same time, the Institute of National Remembrance is fully convinced that any discussion on the victims of German occupation excluding the German Reich (as a state that was the organizer of the Holocaust and committed crimes on millions of Jews and Poles, imposed criminal laws, made decisions on mass genocide, sent armed groups against innocent civilians, and protected every group of obeying German regulations) moves us away from understanding the realities of war and occupation in Poland.”
Regenerated on March 5, 2018

* * *
Conclusion – A likely direction on the IPN legislation.
On February 6, 2018 President Duda signed the legislation and at the same time referred it to the Polish Constitutional Tribunal for review. There appear to be two significant issues of possible concern: (1) whether the law does not violate freedom of speech and (2) whether the wording is sufficiently precise to allow for consistent application of the law.
There is no time limit for the Tribunal to issue a verdict. Given the controversy and the importance of the legislation it is likely that it will take months rather than weeks.

Photo: “Polish Prime Minister Morawiecki standing next to and listening to Pani Anna Stupnicka-Bando (one of the Polish Righteous) who is reading a letter addressed to both the Prime Ministers of Poland and Israel to dialogue over the Polish institute of National Remembrance (IPN) legislation”