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Don’t Allow Survivors to be Silenced

The Holocaust must never be forgotten.

The fight against anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial continues; luckily for those who believe in truth and justice, the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists (IAJLJ) is on their side. Back in June I wrote a piece concerning the IAJLJ and their efforts to combat the so-called “Polish Holocaust Law” in Poland. They had submitted a brief to the Polish Constitutional Court demanding that the Court overturn the law, which criminalized the discussion of Polish involvement and complicity in the Holocaust.

One could have faced up to three years in prison and a fine for saying that the Polish nation colluded with the Nazis. For instance, one could have been jailed for using the term “Polish concentration camp,” a misnomer because, although many camps were located in Poland, at the time the Polish government was in exile and the country was occupied by Nazi Germany, with the camps being set up and run by the Nazis.

After many protested the law and the IAJLJ filed a brief asking that the law be repealed, the Polish government eliminated criminal penalties for violators. However, one can still be sued for discussing Polish complicity in the Holocaust; one can even be sued by Poland’s Institute for National Remembrance.

Thankfully, the IAJLJ is still fighting this fight. On Sept. 4, the IAJLJ submitted a formal request to Poland’s leaders asking that official guidelines be drafted and dispersed to ensure that the law as it stands cannot be abused to silence survivors, students, researchers or journalists, among other groups.

This law has been an egregious affront to free speech and to Holocaust research. It is an insult to every Holocaust survivor, who, after suffering the horrors of that genocide, must now fear being sued for simply sharing their recollections. Because there are many — too many — stories of Poles handing their Jewish neighbors over to the Nazis and even assisting the Nazis in killing the Jews. Polish citizens worked in the concentration camps and they betrayed their fellow countrymen simply over a difference of religion.

This of course does not erase all the good done by many Polish citizens. While there were many instances of cruelty, there were also many instances of kindness, bravery and heroism. More people from Poland have been named “Righteous among the Nations” for their work in saving Jews than in any other country. There are so many uplifting stories of Polish citizens hiding Jews they had never even met before, risking their own lives and the lives of their families, to save these people, who they sometimes hid for years.

And the abominable behavior of some Polish citizens does not negate the fact that Poland suffered greatly during the Holocaust. Under occupation with their government in exile, Polish citizens were brutalized and millions of non-Jewish Poles were murdered by the Nazis, and many others died of disease and starvation.

Just as all of this is fact, so is the fact that not every Pole was “Righteous among the Nations.” To try to cover up this truth with threats of legal liability is disturbing. The facts are the facts and you cannot change history.

I am cautiously optimistic that Poland will respond favorably and that this will be another IAJLJ triumph. After all, the IAJLJ’s success in June was just another in a long line of victories from the organization, which has been working since 1969 to use its members’ legal expertise to change the world for the better — for all people, not just Jews.

And ensuring Holocaust research and discussion remains unabridged does help all people. We are living in a time full of division, when it seems that so many people choose to focus on our differences rather than our similarities. Nationalism had been on the rise in many countries, bringing with it a fear of “the other.” If we allow people to re-write history, we risk forgetting. And forgetting leads to repeating. “Never again” is for all of humanity, not just the Jews. We must remember and continue talking about the Holocaust in order to save lives in the future.

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