It’s time to do away with laws enforcing triumphal national histories

tags: Poland, history, Ukraine, nationalism, Legislation, Soviet history, memory laws

Matthew Lenoe is associate professor of history at the University of Rochester and author of "Closer to the Masses: Stalinist Culture, Social Revolution, and Soviet Newspapers."

On March 31, a few hundred demonstrators gathered in U.S. cities to protest congressional resolutions condemning anti-Semitism and promoting restitution of confiscated property to Holocaust survivors. Though small, the protests, which were organized by a number of Polish American groups, raise disturbing questions about a resurgence of anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe and about “memory laws” intended to shape politically correct national histories.

Many of the protesters expressed open hostility toward Jews — one waved a dollar bill in the face of Jewish counterprotesters, and others held signs with anti-Semitic messages. Participants made grotesque historical claims. One sign asserted that Jews had “betrayed Poland” by inviting the Nazis to invade in 1939. A protest supporter online asked why Polish Jews did not help with the post-World War II reconstruction of Poland. (They had been murdered in the Holocaust.)

According to the news release for the rallies, “The protest addresses the issue of anti-Poland bias and hateful and defamatory statements by Israeli and some U.S. politicians who willfully falsify the history of World War II and outrageously accuse Poland of complicity in the Holocaust.”

Similar to a 2018 Polish law that penalizes statements “in public and against the facts, ascribing to the Polish Nation or the Polish State responsibility or co-responsibility for Nazi crimes,” the event was the latest attempt to erase complex or negative aspects of Polish history. By attempting to shut down debate about Polish participation in the Holocaust, these right-wing Polish nationalists aim to reinforce a narrative in which Poles feature only as heroes and victims.

Read entire article at Washington Post