Poland's Senate has passed a bill that would render illegal any claim of Polish national or government culpability in the Holocaust.
Holding majorities in both parliamentary chambers, President Andrzej Duda of the Law and Justice Party (PiS) is now likely (though not guaranteed) to sign the bill into law.
But while Polish conservatives are celebrating, the bill has greatly upset others who believe it conceals the fact that millions of Jews were imprisoned in hundreds of dystopian Polish ghettos and eventually murdered. The Israeli government has reacted with particular outrage.
Still, I can see both sides of the argument here.
On the Israeli side, the concern is obviously justified. The simple truth is that some Poles in positions of formal power did collaborate with the Nazi effort to eliminate the Jewish people. Even if only perceptibly, this legislation would deny that fact.
That said, I can also understand why the Polish government is pushing this issue. While this legislation is a play to the PiS populist base and an effort to broadcast growing national confidence on the international stage, it's also an effort to correct what many Poles believe are external misconceptions of their wartime history.
For a start, it's an effort to push back against overly used references to "Polish death camps." Just as al Qaeda's attack on September 11 was not an "American attack," death camps like Auschwitz, Chelmno, Treblinka, Sobibór, and Majdanek were not "Polish." To suggest otherwise isn't just wrong — for Poles, it's an insult to the exceptionally brutal Polish experience under Nazi occupation.
Valiantly resisting Nazi invasion, then being cut in half by a Nazi-Soviet agreement, then seized entirely by the Nazis, the Polish people had their nation repeatedly and brutally stolen from them.
But that was only the start of the horror.
After all, under the Nazis, the machinery of terror was unrelenting. Poland's intelligentsia and political classes were purged and likely tens of thousands executed. Simultaneously, the Polish people were left in a position of absolute desperation: forced to choose between saving their Jewish neighbors at the risk of their own lives, or trying to get by. And the truth is that many Poles did help their Jewish neighbors to survive. They provided food, jobs, and support to those imprisoned in the ghettos and thousands sheltered Jewish families in their homes. Without them, Poland's Jewish community would have been almost entirely eliminated.
Indeed, the measure of Polish resistance was often defined by the exceptional innovation of tens of thousands of individuals like Eugene "fake typhoid" Lazowski and Irena Sendler. Without these acts of absolute courage, the photos of starving children on ghetto streets, of lines of Jews waiting for trains of death, of heaps of shoes and glasses, would all have been far more abundant.
Reflecting this contribution to Jewish salvation, Polish citizens hold the highest number of Israeli "Righteous among the nations" awards.
Moreover, in all this, the Polish were largely alone and even betrayed by the allies who refused to support the 1944 Warsaw uprising. Following the war, Poland was then subjected to decades of Soviet tyranny. This heroic legacy is one that must be remembered and one, frankly, that often does not get the attention it deserves.
Ultimately, however, this bill is a serious mistake for a simple reason: it obstructs the objective pursuit of history on a matter of grave historic, contemporary, and future concern.