The Polish people, rightly, think of the Nazi Occupation from 1939 to 1945 as a dark, horrible period of their history. Not only had the local population suffered tremendously, the legacy it left is immediately recognizable: namely, the concentration camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinka, Sobibor, Majdanek, Belzec, Chelmno, and others. Auschwitz and Treblinka alone are responsible for around 2 million deaths during Holocaust. Over 90% of Poland’s Jews were killed during that period.
This is a damning legacy for Polish history, and the modern Polish government wants to be clear on who is responsible.
The Polish President Andrzej Duda wishes to strip away the state-honored medal of the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit from famed historian Jan Gross. Many others have petitioned similarly. The reason? Last year, in an op-ed in the German magazine Die Welt, he claimed that the Poles killed more Jews than the Germans.
This move comes in the wake of a proposed law in Poland that states it to be illegal to call Nazi camps in Poland “Polish death camps,” which implies the occupied Polish people were responsible for the genocide, and not the Nazi government. The Deputy Justice Minister, Patryk Jaki, told reporters to “stop attributing to Poland the role of Holocaust author.” If passed, this new law could carry a jail sentence up to five years.
The phrase “Polish death camps” is so taboo that it is even going to be grammatically incorrect, at least according to a new app released by The Auschwitz Museum. When using this term, it will underline the phrase in red as if it’s incorrect, and will offer suggestions to correct it.
All of these stories, combined, are an effort by the new conservative government, led by the Law and Justice Party and elected last October, to strengthen national identity and history.