Fooling with facts
.Poland has been a target of ill-founded accusations that exploit the history of WWII and unfair interpretations of the relations between the Poles and the Jews for quite a while now. Every year sees the wartime Poland being described in international media as Nazi Germany’s accomplice in the Holocaust. However, in a recent piece posted by the US-based “The New Yorker” its author Masha Gessen has gone far beyond anything we have read or heard before, triggering a wave of criticism and outrage. But the said op-ed seems to fit into a wider trend, one that deserves a closer look on that occasion.
In her article Gessen implies that Poland was complicit in the murder of three million Jews during WWII. Such a bogus accusation found its way from the middle section of the initial (read explanation below) body text to the opening paragraph, so the one whose general aim is to be catchy for a potential reader and set the tone for the rest of the reading. A word of notice: after The New Yorker was slammed by the Polish Foreign Ministry, the director of the Auschwitz museum and some major Jewish organizations, including the American Jewish Committee, for posting the accusatory piece, the magazine amended the opening paragraph and made some cosmetic changes to a subheading, leaving the rest of the text unchanged. And so the initial wording of the lead “to exonerate the nation of the murders of three million Jews, the Polish government will go as far as to prosecute scholars for defamation” has been replaced with: “scholars face defamation suits, and potential criminal charges, in the Polish government’s effort to exonerate the nation of any role in the murders of three million Jews during the Nazi occupation.” And the part that once read “the two historians’ legal troubles stem from the Polish government’s ongoing effort to exonerate Poland—both ethnic Poles and the Polish state—of the deaths of three million Jews in Poland during the Nazi occupation” now reads “the two historians’ legal troubles stem from the Polish government’s ongoing effort to exonerate Poland of any role in the deaths of three million Jews in Poland during the Nazi occupation.” Frankly speaking, that is not much of a change and still does no justice whatsoever to historical facts. This is still pushing a lie that the Poles and Poland were complicit in murdering the Jews.
A question remains whether the op-ed by Gessen is a part of a wider trend of the international media to smear wartime Poland as the accomplice of Hitler in the extermination of Jews. Her article is just one of many attempts to throw suspicion on the Polish nation.
Every year the Polish embassies worldwide report dozens of articles and other type of content that falsify history with claims like “the Polish death camps”; every year a fresh number of authors and historians (including the self-proclaimed ones) suggest that the Poles most of all murdered or robbed their Jewish neighbors and collaborated with the German occupier. However, these lies do not trigger an international response. As absurd as it may sound, those who push them are well poised to gain international acclaim. The stronger the accusations they throw, the better for their popularity.
The narratives suggesting the complicity of wartime Poland in the Holocaust have long been there, growing more intense and powerful over time. Today marks the crossing of a new red line behind which it has become possible – as shown by Gessen in her op-ed for The New Yorker – to groundlessly accuse Poland and the Poles of having murdered three million Jews. It is encouraging to see that Gessen’s lies were not left without an immediate answer. But that is today. How is it going to be in a couple of years? The current smear campaign against Poland and its people will eventually affect the way the history, including the history of the Holocaust, will be interpreted. There is a high risk that the international public opinion will one day take it for granted that Poland and the Poles were the sole perpetrators of the Final Solution. This image, however, will not have anything in common with the facts or anything to do with the respect for the victims of the genocide inflicted by Nazi Germany.
.It is therefore so important to care about the historical truth on a daily basis, and not only as a response to big lies or most serious accusations. Otherwise, if manipulations of history go unanswered, the green light is given for further activities of that sort.