It is not up to Poland to ‘overcome’ its WWII history

Good relations with Germany are a priority, but they must be based on open dialogue.

It is not up to Poland to ‘overcome’ its WWII history

Szymon Andrzej Szynkowski vel Sęk
Secretary of State at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Warsaw, Poland

In his opinion piece “Germany overcame its history. Why can’t Poland?” (October 8) contributor William Echikson put emotion ahead of logic and facts, in an attempt to discredit the Polish government’s policies in two particularly sensitive areas: relations with the Jewish community and relations with Germany.

Echikson painted a particularly dark picture of the state of Holocaust remembrance in Poland. His conclusions are misleading and full of stereotypes. In reality, Poland commits vast resources toward Holocaust commemoration and education. This spending hasn’t decreased since the Law and Justice (PiS) party came into power in 2015 — on the contrary, it has gone up.

The Polish government considers Holocaust education as its duty. In fact, Poland is one of a few countries in the world where it is mandatory at all levels of schooling. The Polish government also treats anti-Semitism as a serious threat; its prevention has been an integral part of PiS policies for many years. It is worth noting that acts of vandalism at Jewish cemeteries and other deplorable anti-Semitic incidents are rare in Poland. When they do occur, state authorities respond decisively to condemn them. Unlike in other European countries, Jewish institutions in Poland do not require security, as they are not targets of violence.

In addition, what Echikson misleadingly calls Poland’s “Holocaust censorship law” has already been widely debated. Let me just recapitulate the most important facts. The Polish president, concerned about certain aspects of the January 2018 law, referred it to the Constitutional Tribunal, which found it unconstitutional. Even before the court ruling, the Polish parliament repealed the objectionable provisions. The law did not prevent any scientific, educational or publishing activity related to the Holocaust — if anything, its side-effect was a renewed interest in the issue.

Echikson also claimed that Poland was engaged in “German bashing.” This ignores the shared history, culture, economy and geopolitical interests between the two countries, as well as the high degree of sympathy for Germany in Poland. There are no signs of worsening relations. Poland is currently Germany’s fifth-largest trading partner. The current government also funds German language education for the German minority in Poland and has created a friendly atmosphere for German investors. Surely these cannot be seen as anti-German gestures.

Maintaining mutually beneficial relations with Germany will continue ranking highly on Warsaw’s agenda, as we are aware that they are of fundamental importance to the peace and prosperity of Poland, Germany and the whole Europe. These good relations can only continue to thrive if they are based on open dialogue. That is why our government has started to speak up about our interests, including when it comes to issues of historical importance.

Only someone who is not aware of the enormity of the suffering of the Polish people, or is completely devoid of empathy, could accuse the Polish government of trying to manipulate history for its particular, immediate gains, as Echikson has done. It is not Poland — the victim of World War II — that must “overcome its history” in order not to upset relations with Germany. Germans still need to reflect on, and take action to overcome, the immense burden of history, cruelty and the unrepaired wrongs of WWII. Evil, once committed cannot be erased, however one attempts to right it, both morally and financially.

Only then can we talk about authentic forgiveness and reconciliation. Until then, reconciliation remains a phrase and does not become an actual rapprochement between the two nations.