In ‘dangerous’ move, Poland moves to suppress painful past

Critics say new ‘historical policy offensive’ by governing party would limit Holocaust research, prevent national reckoning of wartime history.

Poland’s governing party is seeking to shape the country’s future by controlling perceptions of the past. The conservative Law and Justice party’s strategy includes the use of museums, film, public television and other tools to promote certain episodes in Poland’s history, like the anti-communist resistance after World War II. More controversial, though, are attempts to suppress discussion and research into painful topics, primarily Polish violence against Jews during the Nazi occupation.

Law and Justice, which since last year has wielded more power than any party in post-communist times, sees the moves as harnessing history in a mission to build a stronger nation state. President Andrzej Duda said the nation’s new “historical policy offensive” aims to create a new generation of patriots and “to build up the country’s position in the international space.”

Critics see historical revisionism that will produce little beyond national self-righteousness and will prevent an honest reckoning with the country’s wartime history — an extremely complex story that includes suffering and heroism of the highest order but also cases of murder and betrayal by Poles of defenseless Jews.

“They want to narrow our view of the past,” said Pawel Spiewak, director of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw. “They want to use the state apparatus to force their new view of political history, and this is very dangerous.”

Duda waded deeply into controversy when his office announced earlier this year that it might strip a prominent Princeton Holocaust scholar, Jan Tomasz Gross, of a state honor that he received in 1996.

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