Follow the big issues that shape Polish politics and society by signing up to our weekly newsletter "News from Poland: Democracy at Stake". It allows you to stay up to speed on developments concerning the ongoing assault on democratic institutions, rule of law, and human rights in Poland.
Neither Poles nor the Polish state is responsible for the Holocaust, and the fact that this even needs to be explained is truly astonishing. It is equally hard to believe that an experienced “New Yorker” columnist or the highly-regarded magazine’s editorial board had to be reminded of it. Regardless of the current Polish government’s historical revisionist fixation, the statement about “exonerating the nation of the murders of three million Jews”, which appeared in an article that Masha Gessen published in the “New Yorker”, is still outrageous. The strong reaction it has provoked from the American Jewish Committee (AJC) only proves it. We should expect an appropriate correction and an apology to appear in the magazine’s next issue.
Needless diplomatic intervention
Yet, while the controversy has rightly moved the Polish public, a reaction from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs seems to be a bit excessive. The "New Yorker" is a private weekly magazine, not a sovereign principality. The spokesperson at the Polish embassy in Washington should have issued an unambiguous statement, but the deputy ministers should have more important things to occupy their minds. If a state enters into a dispute with a newspaper, it automatically lowers its own status, regardless of what the dispute is about.
Should it still decide to enter in such polemics, however, it would be helpful if its own hands were clean.
But a country whose prime minister claims that "every Polish Jew who survived the war did it because of a Pole [who helped him]", whose president believes that there were "hundreds of thousands" of such heroic Poles, and whose (former, but not disavowed) minister of education declared that she "has no idea who is responsible for murdering the Jews in Jedwabne", has a weak mandate to play the role of a defender of historical truth.
„Holocaust history distortion” of which the American Jewish Committee accused the “New Yorker” is something that the current Polish government and its “history politics” should also be made accountable for.
Masha Gessen Fot. Franciszek Mazur / Agencja Gazeta
You can’t defend the truth with lies
We should remember that it is precisely this instrumental use of history that Gessen’s article talks about, and that the phrase she’s being criticized for is only a part of a single sentence. Again: while it is true that thousands of Polish Jews fell victim to their fellow Polish citizens who participated in the Nazi-orchestrated genocide, accusing Poles of being collectively responsible for the Holocaust is a lie far greater than attempts of the Polish state to exonerate Polish citizens from any role they might have had in it. Gessen's article is about how the current Polish state is trying to eradicate these historical truths. Their words about "exonerating the nation" discredited the article - just as the efforts to suppress historical research discredits not the researchers but those who repress them. Even if used in the service of a noble cause, in the end, falsehood always poisons the truth it seeks to defend.
Every day, 400 journalists at Gazeta Wyborcza write verified, fact-checked stories about Polish politics and society, keeping a critical eye on the ruling camp’s persistent assault on democratic values and the rule of law; the growing cultural tension between religious fundamentalism and human rights; and the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic. Our journalists are on the front lines in 25 Polish cities, reporting from the streets, hospitals, and courtrooms about issues that move public opinion.
We decided to make our service available to everyone free of charge in order to provide access to high quality journalism for expats and English speakers interested in Polish affairs.
The access to information should be equal for all.
Wybierz prenumeratę, by czytać to, co Cię ciekawi
Wyborcza.pl to zawsze sprawdzone informacje, szczere wywiady, zaskakujące reportaże i porady ekspertów w sprawach, którymi żyjemy na co dzień. Do tego magazyny o książkach, historii i teksty z mediów europejskich. Zrezygnować możesz w każdej chwili.