Poland’s Holocaust Law Changed: A Turn in the Right Direction

REUTERS/Kacper Pempel

Jeremy Frankel Contributor
Font Size:

It appears that, following six months of international criticism and outrage, a brief filed by the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists (IAJLJ) — a non-profit NGO — with the Polish Constitutional Court was the straw that broke the camel’s back, leading Poland’s government to take the teeth out of the “Polish Law,” which made it illegal to talk about Polish complicity in the Holocaust.

Back in January, Poland passed a law that made it a criminal offense — with a possible punishment of three years in prison — to refer to Polish involvement or complicity in the Holocaust. According to the law’s supporters, it was meant to rehabilitate Poland’s reputation and correctly place blame on the Nazis for the concentration camps and genocide.

But this did not happen. Instead, this law normalized Holocaust denial, contributing to the suffering of survivors and the Jewish people, and chose to ignore certain historical facts, such as the fact that there were a great number of Polish citizens who assisted the Nazis.

This in no way diminishes the misery that the Nazis visited upon the majority of Poland, nor does it tarnish the memories of all those Polish citizens who fought bravely against the Nazis and gave everything they had to protect their Jewish countrymen.

Rather than protect Poland from misdirected blame, this law brought a great deal of properly directed anger and distress. Not only did the law try to erase a period of history that needs to be remembered, but it attempted to curb freedom of expression, a right guaranteed to Polish citizens by their Constitution. This law was an attempt to police people’s ideas and speech — and not just in Poland, as the law also covered statements made by non-Polish citizens in other countries.

This law contravened many ideals that are basic human rights: the right to speak up and speak out, the right to think freely, the right to have facts made available to you, the right to remember.

Thankfully, due in large part to the work of organizations like the World Jewish Congress and the IAJLJ, the Polish government has amended the law; though the law is still on the books, violations are now decriminalized and are mere misdemeanors. Additionally, investigations into breaches of the law will not be conducted as police matters.

This is why organizations like the IAJLJ are so important. The IAJLJ filed a brief with the Polish Constitutional Court calling for the law to be overturned on June 26, and on June 27, the law was reconsidered. Through its call for action, the IAJLJ was standing for much more than just Jewish lawyers; they were standing for free speech, the Jewish community, the Polish community, the international community and basic human rights.

This is not the IAJLJ’s first move on the world stage to combat anti-Semitism, xenophobia, racism, Holocaust denial and unwarranted condemnations of Israel. Since 1969, the IAJLJ  has lent its legal expertise and moral compass to issues around the world that impinged upon freedom and human dignity.

One of IAJLJ’s proudest accomplishments was helping a United Nations commission gather evidence in 2011 about the conflict between Israel and Gaza.

The organization’s representatives worked to ensure that Israeli victims were heard — something that does not happen often on the international stage when discussions of violence in Israel and Gaza occur. As a result, the Davis Commission not only condemned the continued attacks from Gaza into Israel, but also called out past commissions and U.N. reports that had failed to investigate attacks originating from Gaza and how they hurt Israel and her people.

After the Davis Commission published its results, the author of the notorious Goldstone Report, a United Nations-commissioned investigation that had accused Israel of war crimes, withdrew several of his accusations and apologized, admitting that he had not properly gathered all of the facts before writing his report.

Organizations like the IAJLJ are vital to our continued existence because they help right wrongs, find facts and protect humanity’s most treasured values. As we toast the reversal of the Polish Law, we must bear in mind that there are many more battles to fight and work to empower people from all walks of life to be agents of change.

Jeremy Frankel a frequent contributor to The Daily Wire, NOQ Report, Resurgent and has had pieces published in The Jerusalem Report and The American Spectator. Follow Jeremy on Twitter.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.