The Atlantic

The Truth About Poland's Role in the Holocaust

A new law endangers an honest reckoning with a complex past.
Source: Agencja Gazeta / Reuters

The best history provokes cognitive dissonance. And any version of past events that purports definitively to clarify good vs. evil should be viewed as suspect. A case in point is the public outcry over new legislation in Poland that would criminalize perceived attacks on Polish actions during World War II. The law, which was recently ratified by the parliament in Warsaw and which President Andrzej Duda announced Tuesday he will sign, threatens up to three years imprisonment to anyone who “publicly and untruthfully assigns responsibility or co-responsibility to the Polish Nation or the Polish State for Nazi crimes.” The impetus behind the legislation comes from a number of public references to concentration camps or killing centers built by Nazi Germany on occupied Polish territory as “Polish camps.”

This misrepresentation appears to attribute responsibility to the Polish government or its people for these sites of imprisonment, torture, and murder. In 2012, President Barack Obama made reference to a “Polish death camp” when posthumously awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom to the Polish resistance figure Jan Karski. While

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