Q and A with Polish President Andrzej Duda

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Excerpts from Paul Wells interview with Polish President Andrzej Duda. The interview was published at Macleans.ca on May 12, 2016. (photo by Andrzej Hrechorowicz / KPRP)

 

Poland’s government is considering legislation that would make it a criminal offence to suggest Polish responsibility for the Holocaust. The Nazi regime’s murderous coercion of ordinary Poles is well known, as is the Polish people’s fierce resistance. But surely that resistance was not unanimous? Surely it should be acceptable for historians to examine the role individual Poles played during the war years, even if some contributed to the Nazi atrocities?
 

Over six thousand Poles are listed in the Yad Vashem Institute as the Righteous Among the Nations. Can you name at least one of them? Probably not. Their sacrifice was mostly anonymous. A few weeks ago I had the honour to participate in the opening ceremony of a museum in Markowa, in southern Poland, commemorating the martyrdom of the Ulma family. During the war they saved a Jewish family from extermination. And they paid for this heroic deed with their own lives. All members of the Ulma family were slaughtered by Germans. All eight of them, including small children. Is this story really so well-­known abroad? I don’t think so. The name “Markowa” doesn’t appear too frequently in foreign media, unlike the outrageous term “Polish death camps.” Do you know that in war­time Poland, as opposed to many other countries in Europe, the Germans were unable to install a puppet regime? Do you know that the Polish government in exile and the Polish Underground Army appealed for all Poles to help Jews, in spite of the fact that the people who hid their Jewish neighbours faced instant execution? The new government has no intention to sue historians who investigate Polish anti­-Semitism. Their books are not only “acceptable,” they are necessary to fully understand all intricacies of the common history of Poles and Jews. Alas, for many years, we have witnessed a process of shifting blame for the Holocaust on others. No, we were not responsible for the Holocaust. The German Nazi regime was.

PiS governments have been preoccupied with establishing that many Poles, still alive, collaborated with the Communists during the Cold War. How could their collaboration with an authoritarian regime cause them public blame, while an earlier generation’s interaction with an earlier oppressor, the Nazis, becomes a forbidden topic of historical investigation? This looks like a serious double standard.
 

No, it doesn’t. As I said before, there was no Polish puppet regime steered by Germans during the war. Acts of anti­-Semitism and atrocities committed by individuals were unacceptable but rare. But we have admitted the truth. We have recognized the fact that some Poles behaved hideously under [extremely harsh German and Soviet*] occupation. Conversely, most communist apparatchiks were neither prosecuted nor officially condemned for what they did in the ’50s or in the ’80s. After the fall of communism many of them lived unmolested in their villas, cashing in hefty pensions. And many Poles who collaborated with the regime continued their careers in academia, business, politics. Can you spot the difference? I’ll give you one telling example. When Mr. Jan Tomasz Gross’s books about Polish anti-Semitism were published in Warsaw, they were widely acclaimed by liberal critics. Meanwhile historians who were trying to describe the involvement of current elites in the communist system of oppression were ostentatiously discredited and ostracized. Yes, double standards were applied in Poland, but the other way round.

[*] added by PI

 



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