It’s been almost 75 years since the Holocaust, in which six million Jews were murdered in Europe, but anti-Semitism still festers there. A right-wing weekly newspaper that is distributed all around Poland and was part of a stack of periodicals delivered to the Polish parliament emblazoned its front page, “How to recognize a Jew.”
Tylko Polska, or “Only Poland,” stated various and sundry items to look for when looking for Jews, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA): “Names, anthropological features, expressions, appearances, character traits, methods of operation” and “disinformation activities.”
JTA noted that the text asks, “How to defeat them? This cannot go on!” JTA also reported that a page in the weekly was headlined “Attack on Poland at a conference in Paris.” The “attack” referenced a Holocaust studies conference in late February, titled “The New Polish School of Historical Research on the Shoah,” at which Polish researchers discussed Poland and its history during the Holocaust. Protesters accused the speakers of bearing “a clear xenophobic and anti-Polish character.”
One professor received death threats. Another, who is Jewish, was called “a dirty Jew.”
The article citing the “Attack on Poland” depicted Jan Gross, a Polish-Jewish Princeton University scholar who has spoken of Polish complicity during the Holocaust in a 2000 book about the 1941 Jedwabne massacre of Jews in which some Poles participated. The Washington Post noted in March 2018, “Poland’s right-wing government, led by the Law and Justice Party, has attacked Gross as ‘unpatriotic,’ and the Holocaust law enabled a lawsuit to be filed last week against an Argentine newspaper for a December article pertaining to the Jedwabne massacre.”
The Jedwabne massacre occurred in the summer of 1941; some Poles aided in the massacre, where hundreds of Jews were burned alive, including women and children. Poland’s Institute of National Remembrance forensic criminal investigation (IPN) stated that Polish men from nearby villages began arriving in Jedwabne “with the intention of participating in the premeditated murder of the Jewish inhabitants of the town.” The IPN concluded that some Poles played a “decisive role” in the massacre.
In 2011, a monument in Jedwabne commemorating the massacre was defaced with graffiti reading, “We do not apologize for Jedwabne” and “They were flammable.”
There were numerous other instances during the Holocaust where Poles aided Jews.
JTA noted, “’Only Poland’ is published by Leszek Bubl, a fringe nationalist political candidate and sometime musician who has sung about ‘rabid’ rabbis.” The weekly was dropped off at the Sejm, the lower house of the Polish parliament, prompting legislator Michał Kamiński to protest; the Sejm Information Center responded, “The Chancellery of the Sejm will request the publication’s removal from the press kit.”
The question of Polish complicity in the Holocaust has engendered much bitterness; at the beginning of 2018, the Polish government championed a law that made referring to Polish guilt in Nazi atrocities a crime punishable by jail time. The proposed legislation threatened as much as three years in prison for anyone who “publicly and untruthfully assigns responsibility or co-responsibility to the Polish Nation or the Polish State for Nazi crimes.” Initially, the Polish parliament ratified the legislation and President Andrzej Duda said he would sign it.
International condemnation of the proposed law ensued, including from the United States and Israel. The United States regarded the law as infringing on free speech; Israel regarded it as Holocaust denial. The Polish government later softened the law so that jail time was eliminated.