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Poland’s Dictatorship of Myth

After passing a controversial law proscribing any mention of Polish complicity in crimes committed by the Nazis in World War II, Poland's populist government is now backpedaling. But as a new amendment shows, history by legislation inevitably abuses the past.

WARSAW – There is no escaping history in Poland. At an abruptly convened session in late June, the Polish Sejm (the lower house of parliament) rushed through an amendment to the Act on the Institute of National Remembrance, reversing another amendment that had been adopted in January of this year. Effective immediately, attributing blame to Poland for World War II-era Nazi crimes would no longer be punishable by three years in prison.

The ruling Law and Justice Party’s (PiS) rapid defanging of its own “memory law” comes as no surprise. The original legislation invited international outrage, especially from Israel. Even US President Donald Trump – usually a close friend to Poland’s nationalists – indicated that he would not meet with Polish leaders until the crisis was resolved.

Still, the way the Polish government went about tweaking the law was absurd. For one thing, the entire process was carried out in secret, to the point that Israeli-Polish relations were mediated by the countries’ respective intelligence agencies, lest the law’s key proponent, Polish Minister of Justice Zbigniew Ziobro, catch wind of what was in the works.

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Poland's new law criminalizing mention of the complicity of the "Polish nation” in the crimes of the Holocaust is a dangerous attempt to use history as a political tool. Yet Poland's government is hardly the first to edit the past to serve a nationalist narrative, as Israelis should know very well.