Finding My Own Truth As Poland Rewrites Holocaust History

tags: Holocaust, Poland

Tamara Micner is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, London Review of Books and other publications. Follow her on Twitter, @TamaraMicner. Thumbnail Image - By Michel Zacharz AKA Grippenn[1] - Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5

In August, Poland’s Cabinet approved a bill that would criminalize using the phrase “Polish death camp” or “Polish concentration camp,” with punishments ranging from fines to imprisonment. It’s one of several recent government reforms that critics have called anti-democratic.

The bill also raises questions about Poland’s role in the Holocaust. It echoes the country’s communist-era stance on World War II: that Poland was a victim and heroically saved Jews. (Recent Polish novels and films challenging this narrative have met with controversy.)

Growing up in Canada, I heard the opposite stance from my family, my Jewish day school and the broader community: that Poland was anti-Semitic and complicit in the Holocaust.

Recently, however, I’ve come to believe that both narratives are true.

When I visited Poland this summer with my sister, for the first time, contradiction was the refrain of the trip. On the one hand, we learned that Christian Poles — including our local guide’s grandparents — were sent to concentration camps. The Nazis killed 2 million to 3 million Christian Poles, and 3 million Jewish Poles. Poland lost one-fifth of its total prewar population, more than any other European country.

On the other hand, those numbers represent roughly 10% of the Christian Polish population and 90% of the Jewish Polish population. ...

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