Today, representatives of the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, an organization that works to advance human rights around the globe, submitted a brief to the Polish Constitutional Court demanding that the Court overturn the so-called “Polish Law,” which criminalizes the discussion of Polish involvement and complicity in the Holocaust.
The amendment to an existing law was passed in January and threatens up to three years imprisonment or a fine for those who accuse the Polish state or people of involvement in or responsibility for the Holocaust. For instance, the term “Polish death camp” is now illegal, as the camps were Nazi-run on occupied Polish land. The law does allow exceptions for artists and scientists, but is vague on what that means.
“We have to send a clear signal to the world that we won’t allow for Poland to continue being insulted,” Deputy Justice Minister Patryk Jaki said in a meeting of Poland’s parliament.
The law’s passage brought a swift response from the international community, which mainly criticized the move. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it an “attempt to rewrite history” and United States President Donald Trump has said that this law may damage the relationship between the two countries.
The IAJLJ, whose mandate specifically calls for it to combat racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial, unjust condemnations of Israel and infractions of international law, is now working to overturn this law. Founded in 1969, the IAJLJ not only works to protect the rights and interests of the Jewish people and Israel, but to defend human rights across the globe. The IAJLJ is a non-profit non-governmental organization that holds Category 2 status in the United Nations’ Economic and Social Counsel and in the European Parliament.
The IAJLJ argues that the Polish Law is overly broad, which contradicts the Polish Constitution. According to the IAJLJ, the law is deliberately phrased to be obscure, which leaves it open to interpretation; the interpretations could potentially have drastic consequences for Poland, on the Jewish community and on the field of Holocaust study.
Additionally, the IAJLJ sees the law as a severe violation of freedom of expression and of freedom of the press — two ideals valued as necessary to any democracy. The first case filed under this new law was against a journalist named Federico Pavlosky, who writes for the Argentine newspaper Pagina/12. More than two months before the law took effect, Pagina/12 wrote a story about a pogrom in which, according to an investigation conducted by the Polish government, approximately 40 Polish citizens murdered more than 300 Jewish citizens.
For IAJLJ Deputy President Calev Michael Myers, who helped to spearhead this project on behalf of the organization, this law is nothing but an attempt to hide the past and to deny history.
“The Holocaust did not happen in a vacuum,” Myers told the press. “There were people who helped the Nazis realize their plans, and some of these people were Polish. The way to correct Poland’s legacy and history is not to erase the Holocaust. The amendment to the law is a means to silence the Jewish people and an act against the memory of the Holocaust — and we will not accept this.”
The IAJLJ is quick to point out that they did not file this brief as an attack on Poland or its legacy; the organization has released several statements honoring and praising the Polish citizens who risked everything during the Holocaust to save their Jewish neighbors.
According to Yad Vashem, Israel’s official Holocaust memorial, research center and museum, Poland has the highest number of citizens honored as “Righteous Among the Nations” compared to every other country; this designation honors non-Jews who risked their lives and freedom to save Jews from the Nazis.
In fact, IAJLJ officials, including Myers and IAJLJ President Meir Linzen, who is himself of Polish descent, have stated that their concern regarding this law is also a concern for the average Polish citizen, as they believe this law contravenes freedom of expression.
Additionally, Linzen and Myers argue that this law is doing more harm to Poland’s image as it relates to the Holocaust. Not only has this law sparked renewed interest from Holocaust scholars into Poland’s complicity, they said, but it has made Poland seem as though it is trying to hide something. The IAJLJ sees this law as a pathway that could lead to further restrictions on speech and expression, as well as Holocaust denial, which can be seen on a national scale in countries like Iran.
“It is inconceivable that 70 years ago, Jews feared for their lives because of the Nazis, and today Jews should be afraid to lose their freedom because of mentioning the Polish complicity in the Holocaust,” Myers said. “Those who erase memories of the Holocaust erase the humanity within themselves, and that is what we are opposing today. We fight not only for the memory of the murdered but also for our children and grandchildren who will be able to say, ‘We are here.’”
IAJLJ leaders are confident they will be able to impact Poland’s law on this matter, citing several past successes, including assisting the United Nations’ Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza Conflict, which condemned attacks perpetrated by Gazans against Israel; educating leading jurists from Spain on Israel’s legal system, which ultimately led to Spain calling off its stated intent to indict Israel Defense Force officers for war crimes; and reinvigorated the Israeli legal system in 2013 to go after extremist rabbis who had written a book inciting violence against Arabs.
You can learn more about IAJLJ here.