The Politics of Heroism: The Museum of Poles Saving Jews in World War II

 

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The Ulma Family Museum of Poles Saving Jews in World War II, Markowa, Poland. Source: rzeszow.eska.pl

By Stanley Bill

A new museum in the village of Markowa in the east of Poland honors the sacrifice of Poles who lost their lives in the attempt to save their Jewish neighbors from the Holocaust. The Ulma Family Museum of Poles Saving Jews in World War II is housed in the place where Józef and Wiktoria Ulma and their six children were murdered along with Saul Goldman, Gołda Grünfeld, Lea Didner and five other children by German gendarmes in 1944. Their tragic story symbolises the fate of hundreds of others who paid the ultimate price for kindness in Nazi-occupied Poland, where aiding Jews was punishable with death. In a recent ceremony, Polish President Andrzej Duda opened the museum in the presence of other politicians, religious leaders, journalists, and guests from Israel. Notes from Poland co-editor Stanley Bill attended the event. He reports on the museum, the ceremony, and Poland’s new politics of history.

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Lech Wałęsa and the Politics of History

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Lech Wałęsa, 1980. Source: AP.

By Siobhan Doucette

In 1980, a little known electrician from Gdansk was chosen as leader of an independent trades union that within one year had ten million members and within ten years played a decisive role in the overthrow of communism in Eastern Europe. The head of that union, Lech Wałęsa, has this week come under attack amid allegations that he was a paid informant of the communist-era security service (SB).  These charges have been leveled without proper authentication of the supposedly new incriminating documents and within a fractious political climate. Whatever the objective facts of the case turn out to be, history and contemporary politics have become inextricably intertwined.

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Jan Gross and Polish Death Camps: Does Poland’s ‘historical policy’ threaten academic freedom?

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By Daniel Tilles

While it is completely understandable that Poland wants to stamp out the misleading and offensive phrase ‘Polish death camps’, this should be done through education, not by threatening prison sentences for those who use the term, as the government has proposed. Even more worryingly, the new draft law on this issue – combined with a threat to withdraw a state honour from historian Jan Gross – has the potential to be just the opening salvo in a far broader attempt by the ruling party to impose its historical vision, potentially impinging on academic freedom, argues Daniel Tilles, a British historian based in Kraków.

Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has long made clear that it wishes the country to pursue – in the words of President Andrzej Duda earlier this week – an ‘aggressive historical policy’, with the dual aim of fostering a greater sense of patriotic pride at home while enhancing the country’s image abroad. Continue reading

Polish government’s broken promises on British benefits deal: pragmatism or betrayal?

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David Cameron meets Jaroslaw Kaczynski (Pawel Supernak/PAP)

By Daniel Tilles

By apparently agreeing to David Cameron’s proposal to restrict benefits for EU migrants in the UK, Poland’s government has made a dramatic reversal on its earlier declarations that it would never accept such discrimination against Polish citizens. Daniel Tilles asks whether this U-turn is the result of a pragmatic compromise or if, instead, the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has used the rights of its countrymen as bargaining chip to gain concessions from the British that advance its own political agenda.

As I’ve written in these pages previously, a particular concern in Britain stemming from the unprecedented wave of immigration during the last decade has been over ‘benefit tourism’: the idea that some migrants are coming not to work, but to take advantage of the country’s generous welfare system. Such accusations have been directed in particular against Poles, who make up the largest group among recent European immigrants and who, as EU citizens, are legally entitled to receive benefits on the same basis as British natives. Continue reading

Antoni Macierewicz: From Revolutionary to Government Minister

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By Siobhan Doucette

Antoni Macierewicz, Poland’s defense minister, has quickly become one of the most prominent – and divisive – figures in the country’s new government, attracting international attention for overseeing the recent raid on a NATO facility in Warsaw and for alleged historical antisemitic comments. Through an exploration of Macierewicz’s progression from leading activist in the Polish democratic opposition during the communist period to government minister, our guest author, Siobhan Doucette, underlines the continuity of his thought and contextualizes many of his most controversial recent pronouncements and decisions, including his response to the Smolensk plane crash.

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International Media and the Lazy Stereotype of the Polish Antisemite

By Daniel Tilles

(Updated in light of new evidence; see end of article)maciarewicz

Another article has appeared in the international media expressing concern at the actions of the new Polish government, this time from the Washington Post, which reports on fears of a ‘creeping coup d’etat’ taking place. However, as with much foreign coverage of the country, the piece is over-simplistic, exaggerated and fails to provide context.

In particular, the description of the new defense minister, Antoni Macierewicz, as an ‘outspoken anti-Semite’ is rather far-fetched. The accusation – which has recently appeared in a number of Western media outlets – is based on a slightly ambiguous statement made 13 years ago by Macierewicz in a radio interview, in which he appeared to partially endorse the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. He recently attempted to clarify his remarks, claiming that his words had been ‘manipulated’ and confirming that he ‘condemns anti-Semitism in all its forms’. Continue reading

Poland’s Culture of Political Unaccountability

By Daniel Tilles

z19083135Q,Ewa-Kopacz-i-Leszek-Miller-glosujaHaving grown up in Britain’s political culture, I’m often shocked at the lack of personal accountability in Polish politics. On 7 May this year, general elections were held in the UK. The big winners were the Conservatives, who won a majority, and the Scottish National Party, who swept almost all seats north of the border. The morning after the election, the leaders of the other three main parties had all offered their resignation: Ed Miliband, despite increasing Labour’s share of the vote since the previous election; Nigel Farage, despite winning an unprecedented 13% of votes for UKIP; and Nick Clegg, whose Liberal Democrats performed disastrously.

Compare this to what has (or rather hasn’t) happened in Poland since Sunday’s election. Ewa Kopacz, despite overseeing PO’s dramatic collapse this year (it’s easy to forget that just six months ago the party was leading the polls), has offered no indication that she will quit. Indeed, there are rumours that she will try to cling on to her position. Continue reading