Poland’s New “Holocaust Law”: An Open Letter to Students, with Piotr Laskowski
ENGLISH CORNER, CON LINDA JIMÉNEZ – This week’s trivia question: What was the public reaction to the letter published by two Polish teachers in answer to the new government law?
At the beginning of February the Polish Senate passed a new law which outlaws accusing Poland of complicity in Nazi crimes committed under occupation. The law states that “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 German Reich… shall be subject to a fine or a penalty of imprisonment of up to three years”. The country has long objected to the use of phrases like “Polish death camps”, which suggest the Polish state in some way shared responsibility for camps such as Auschwitz. The camps were actually built and operated by Nazi Germany after it invaded Poland in 1939.
However, the new law has sparked worldwide controversy, and also led to a new wave of anti-Jewish feeling in Poland, which was denounced in an open statement signed by 23 Jewish organizations in that country.
Shortly before Poland’s president signed the law, Piotr Laskowski and Sebastian Matuszewski, who teach history at a private high school in Warsaw, wrote an open letter to their students. In it, they wrote about the dangers of elevating nationalism over humanity. They then went on to describe the Polish state’s responsibility in committing crimes against Jews before and during the Holocaust, including the creation of camps and segregation in universities.
On February 6, the day President Andrzej Duda signed the new law, the letter was published in a popular Polish journal of opinion, Gazeta Wyborcza. The letter was subsequently published internationally in English, French and Spanish.
We spoke with Piotr Laskowski about the new law and the letter.