From A World to Win News Service

The Weaponization and Targets of the Debate About “Polish Death Camps”

February 12, 2018 | Revolution Newspaper | editors’ note: This article came out shortly before the bill discussed here, criminalizing the use of the term “Polish death camps,” was signed by the president of Poland on February 6.


February 4, 2018. A World to Win News Service. Poland’s parliament has passed a bill criminalizing the use of the term “Polish death camps” to refer to Auschwitz and other concentration camps located in Poland where about three million Jews and as many as three million other people were killed during World War 2. This law is a serious step in Poland’s march toward implementing fascism. At the same time, the widespread condemnation of this law has been marked by falsification and hypocrisy on a grand scale.

The bill, now awaiting the Polish president’s signature, threatens up to three years in prison for “whoever accuses, publicly and against the facts, the Polish nation, or the Polish state, of being responsible or complicit in the Nazi crimes committed by the Third Reich.” People engaged in “artistic or scientific activities” could be exempted. But their fate would be up to a court system increasingly under the control of the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS),* whose Interior Minister notoriously called a neo-Nazi march of tens of thousands last November a “beautiful sight.”

The law is a provocation, deliberately inviting criticism by the European Union and Israel, so as to paint Poland a victim. It was carefully written to withstand legal challenges. Narrowly considered and taken without context, it does not trample on the facts. It is incontestable that there was no Polish state at the time of the Holocaust. Unlike other countries that were invaded or otherwise dominated by Germany during the war, like Hungary, France, Norway, etc., the Nazis smashed the existing state and ruled Poland with no local collaborationist government. They considered Poles and all Slavs an inferior “race” only slightly better than Jews. Auschwitz-Birkenau and other death camps on Polish soil were entirely German operations.

As for the part about “the Polish nation,” while it might be arguable in court, the use of “nation” is mystical (implying that Poles who aided the Nazis should not be considered truly Polish), and leaves out the following basic facts.

Anti-Semitism played a basic part in the construction of Poland’s identity as a Catholic nation—an identity revived by its current government. Somewhat like white supremacy in the US, the exclusion and oppression of Jews were built into the structure of Polish society. Ordinary Poles committed mass violence against Jews long before the Nazi invasion, during the occupation, and even after the defeat of the occupying German army.

Accounts of Jews who survived the genocide describe the dilemma of desperately needing help to hide or flee, and yet not being able to trust the Poles around them. The problem was not that all non-Jewish Poles were anti-Semitic but there was usually no way of knowing in advance what any particular Polish person would do. Many betrayed Jews to the Nazis, some out of fear, others out of prejudice or greed. In one notorious case (Jedwabne, 1941), more than three hundred Jews were rounded up, locked in a barn and burned to death by their own neighbours without Nazi intervention.

Yet many Poles risked their lives or died to defend victims of the Nazis. For instance, the revolt of Jews imprisoned by the Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto would not have been able to hold out as long as it did without weapons and medical supplies smuggled in from the outside by some Polish underground forces and ordinary civilians. Polish families welcomed escapees from the ghetto into their apartments, taking care of them until they could recover from starvation, illness or wounds and resume their flight. If the Germans found them in someone’s home, all the family members and often the building concierge would be shot. To take one example, the Iwanska family living outside the ghetto walls was in charge of the sewer that was a main conduit for people and supplies. They also set up an infirmary in their flat. The parents learned that their young son had joined the Jewish resistance only when they found his corpse among the bodies of other fallen fighters they were helping bring out for burial. While one-sidedly absolving the “Polish nation”, the Polish government does not honour such heroes.


It’s right to put the main blame on the Nazis. But there is a great deal of hypocrisy on the part of the reactionaries criticising Poland for all this. The founders and early leaders of today’s German state included many people who had been complicit in the Nazi regime. Moreover, the US and UK refused to take action to stop the functioning of the death camps. Survivors of Auschwitz recount their feeling of utter abandonment when they saw British and American bombers flying overhead to hit targets considered strategic for the US and UK’s war aims. Those aims did not include saving lives by destroying the railway system carrying people to their death at the rate of tens of thousands a day. In ignoring these facts, most of the international condemnation of Poland for avoiding responsibility for the genocide is profoundly self-serving and dishonest.

The Polish government’s stance towards the Holocaust is the opposite of “Never again.” The point of this law is to wipe the slate clean and start out all over, exalting the unstained “Polish nation”—“Pure Poland, white Poland” as the neo-Nazi marchers in November chanted—burnishing the image of the Catholic fascism that is its ideology, and embracing calls for “a Muslim Holocaust” this time. Criticizing this regime for distorting history cannot evade the question of why this is happening now. Further, Poland can’t be treated as just an odd case, intrinsically and uniquely flawed. Its government is very conscious of its role as a spearhead of the fascist trend in Europe, now in power in Ukraine, Poland, Hungry, Slovakia and Austria, and strongly influencing “mainstream politics” in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Italy and other countries, including the UK. Perversely, the Trump administration has joined in criticizing this Polish law to advance its own fascist agenda and ideology. Like the new law itself, this requires explanation and context.

Trump has particularly close ties with the Polish government. His first overseas visit was to Warsaw, where unlike previous US presidents and other heads of state, he skipped the formality of visiting Auschwitz. Poles understood his speech calling on them to “defend with your life” the fight for “family, for freedom, for country, and for God” as an encouragement of the fascist project. Why would the US regime, headed by someone infamous for saying there are “fine people” among Nazis and other white supremacists, be bothered by this new law?

The reason was revealed by his vice president Mike Pence in a speech on Holocaust Remembrance Day, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, around the same time that Poland’s parliament passed the bill. Pence...frankly put forward the religious fundamentalist vision shared by Trump’s evangelical “base” as a whole, sanctifying Trump’s programme for a fascist country seeking to become “great again” on a world level even at the cost of nuclear war and the genocidal slaughter of millions, starting with Koreans. These “Christian Zionists,” as many call themselves, believe that we are entering the “end-times” of history, the second coming of Christ, soon to occur when Jews take over all of Jerusalem and accept him as their saviour. (At that time, those Jews who fail to convert to Christianity will be consigned to eternal flames like all other non-believers.) This ideology, with the apocalyptic wars it welcomes, is no less potentially genocidal in its implications than Nazism.

Of course, until that day, these people and their führer Donald Trump will back the state of Israel, a key outpost needed for the US’s world-crushing project. Christian and other varieties of fascism, and Zionism, are bound to be embroiled in doctrinal conflicts, but they are celebrating a marriage made in hell. Israeli leaders criticized the Polish law for criminalizing political and historical debate. But what are the chances that this argument will be applied to their own government for criminalizing debate about the origins of Israel, built on the expulsion and subjugation of the Palestinians!? And how can Israeli politicians scold Poland on free speech grounds when they recently made it illegal for anyone anywhere in the world to support the boycott of the Zionist state? (A position shared by the US and France.)

People need to realize what’s going on with these supposedly “historical” debates. The point is not that history necessarily repeats itself, nor that we can understand our world today by searching for analogies from the past. But events in recent memory show what could happen—that the kind of things that at one moment seem unthinkable can, as contradictions tighten, come to pass. Looking at the aims behind today’s “historical” debate, we can see where the rise of fascism could take humanity. That’s how history will judge us—and what should determine our course of action.

* Note from For more on PiS, the ruling party in Poland whose initials stand for “Law and Justice,” see “Fascists on the March in Poland.” [back]


On March 17, 2017, A World to Win News Service (AWTWNS) announced its transformation into a more thorough-going tool for revolution based on Bob Avakian’s new synthesis of communism. Read its “Editorial: Introducing a transformed AWTWNS” here.




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