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'Jewish Death Camps': On moral illiteracy and the real face of Poland today.

A controversial new law in Poland makes it illegal to accuse the nation of being complicit with Nazi crimes such as the Holocaust. It also outlaws the phrase 'Polish death camps'. Both are punishable by prison sentences of up to three years. The law has provoked an academic and diplomatic firestorm and was also renounced by the writer, scholar, film-maker and philanthropist Dr Inna Rogatchi, who also serves as the president of the Rogatchi Foundation, who answered some questions on the subject put to her by Rochel Sylvetsky.

What's the significance of Poles using the term 'Jewish death camps'?

The whole process of passing the notorious Polish law that aims to censor the narrative on World War Two, the Shoah (Holocaust) and the activities around them, reveals the real face of modern-day Poland. And this face, in my opinion, is an ugly one.

Who could imagine that 74 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, the world would hear the phrase 'Jewish death camps' followed by the mocking question asking 'Who actually did run the crematoria?' in an exchange of 'jests' by two Polish authors on a television broadcast dealing with the new law.

Once the phrase was aired on Polish TV2 during a popular talk show, it was immediately picked up by thousands of anti-Semites from Poland and elsewhere seen in an avalanche of insults on social media. Social media experts registered the beginning of the massive trolling use of the criminal phrase within two hours after the Polish broadcast.

This new low of modern-day Polish anti-Semites is a qualitative change. What's the meaning of the law and its purpose?

The vast majority of the Polish media, the government and a large percentage of the Polish public are stubbornly presenting an inaccurate picture of the new law. They're trying to insist that the whole thing is about one phrase denoting who built the concentration camps, and in doing so are positioning themselves as the main victims of World War Two.

In fact, the reality is that the law is about censoring the narrative of the history of World War Two, and the context of it is much wider.

After all, everybody knows that the camps were a Nazi operation. No-one thinks they were Polish.

But the Polish legislators have used the argument over that phrase as a cover for a far more important part of this law. In the name of 'the protection of the reputation' of the Polish nation and Polish state, anyone who invokes the role and crimes committed by Poles during World War Two and/or their collaboration with the Nazis will be prosecuted.

This is in direct violation of freedom of speech and freedom of expression, of fundamental human rights, a violation of international law and the UN Convention of Human Rights and has no place in civilised society. It's blatant revisionism of the most terrible tragedy of the 20th century, one in which crimes against humanity were out of any proportion and that don't have a statute of limitation for this very reason.

The Nazis had their accomplices and collaborators all over the occupied territories, and Poland was no exception. To claim otherwise, or to demand that the world remain silent because a few hundred legislators and 57 Senators would like that to happen, is nothing but delusional.

Polish legislators hope to hush the racist crimes committed by Polish citizens before and after World War Two once and for all, but Jews have a long memory, a very long memory. Corresponding to the crimes committed against our people throughout history, since 1312BC. Because we value human life so much.

What does the proposal of the law indicate?

The law is indicative of the atmosphere in Poland and is a visible result of two years under the current Polish leadership. It's truly surprising. Poland is a big country with a large strong stratum of intellectuals and people who used to think and act independently. It's the country of the Solidarity movement, but all that's hardly believable nowadays.

At the beginning of the current government's term and the parliament dominated by the PiS (Law and Justice) party, the atmosphere in Poland wasn't as suffocated and submissive as it is today. During the first year of the new coalition, there were many demonstrations actively advocating for freedom and civil rights. According to statistics, half the country opposed the line pushed by the new government. Poland was breathing.

Now the PiS enjoys 40% support and according to Polish sociologists their supporters are 'the most vocal part of the population'. The danger is here. The danger is when the population is fed distortion, when the truth is imprisoned, when the people are fooled and kept that way.

In just over two years, observers began to notice the amazing ease with which the most controversial laws pass in the Polish parliament. And this is a strong indication of the present mood within Polish society.

In a country of 38 million, just 92 people signed the letter to the Sejm (Polish Parliament) against the shameful law criminalising speech on World War Two and the Shoah, and they are Jewish. There are also 85 Jewish and non-Jewish famed scholars and writers who signed the international Open Letter against it.

And a good sign is that after the Open Letter was published in the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, more than 120,000 people signed the corresponding petition to the Sejm--over a period of just four days.

We kno there are good people with a moral compass working in the right directions in Poland today. We can read their articles in those still independent media, like Gazeta Wyborcza and some others, and we're glad that our friends are not giving in.

Polish cultural figures like Jan T. Gross, Irena Grudzinska-Gross and Jan Grabowski who are abroad, and Pawel Machcewicz who is also outside Poland, are raising their voices. There are important Polish historians and observers such as Anna Bikont, Barbara Engelking, Jacek Leociak, and some of their brilliant colleagues within the country, honest and brave people who not only know the truth, but who also are writing, talking and protesting about it. There's no doubt that there are many people in Poland who are against this macabre political and moral suicide carried out by the current Polish government now.

These people are maintaining the sanity and decency of Polish society, and I personally am very grateful to them and admire their stand and activities.

Where is Polish society going?

There are grave implications for the future of Polish society. In the beginning there was hope that the clever, well educated, independent-minded Polish people would withstand the brainwashing of the ruling revisionists of history. But some thoughtful and experienced people in Poland voiced concern.

My colleagues, distinguished Polish historians with tough personal experience of the Solidarity movement, were telling me back in 2016, 'The biggest worry is the development of the young generation of the country. We have a large young population, a good thing in itself, but they're the easiest to brainwash. And active brainwashing is going on. Additionally, many of them are under-educated, and their ideas and ideals are formed at football stadiums, with a lot of violence involved. This is dangerous, and we're worried about what will become of that youth.'

We're witnessing it now. We see a barrage of insults, racist and anti-Semitic attacks on social media carried out by so many young Polish people. We see the ultra-nationalist rallies of the Polish youth today, with a rising number of people in attendance. The world can't afford the luxury of turning away from the looming danger of rising Polish ultra-nationalism.

The fact is that not once during the 45 years of the post-war, pro-Soviet Polish state was the issue of Polish participation in the atrocities against its Jewish population brought to light. It was an absolute taboo until not only the end of the pro-Soviet regime but for almost a decade after that when the first information about the well documented atrocities were published. This was prompted by Jan T. Gross' revealing and highly moral analyses of what really happened. This is the truth with which Poland has to deal.

How do you feel personally about what's happened?

Today, I'm glad that my dear friends Simon Wiesenthal and Elie Wiesel didn't live to see what Poland has become today. I don't like to think how they'd feel.

I remember how our dear friend Simon Wiesenthal told me about meaningful episode which occurred in May 1945 at the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria after its liberation by the United States Army. The Americans told Simon, who weighed just 36kg at the time and who lost his entire family and many of his co-prisoners, that they were ready and willing to send him home. Simon asked them, "Home? What home? Poland? Every stone, every tree there is a cemetery for me. What home are you talking about?.."

Hearing the story from Simon, I thought what a tragedy it must be for a person to feel this way about the place of their birth, the place where their family lived, the place of their childhood home, where their life developed. I always felt deeply sorry for my dear friend, a great and brave man whose life had been crushed in the cruelest way. And many, many other lives like Simon Wiesenthal's and his wife Cyla's. Too many. An ocean of lives. And now I know precisely what Wiesenthal and many others who couldn't return to Poland meant. I feel it. And this is the reality of today, three generations after the Shoah.

First published in the Israel National News on February 6, 2018

Caption: Renowned European historian Dr. Inna Rogatchi gives her opinion of the new Polish Holocaust Law and Poland today
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Title Annotation:CONTROVERSY
Publication:The Baltic Times (Riga, Latvia)
Geographic Code:4EXPO
Date:Feb 28, 2018
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