The CHA opposes the Polish Parliament criminalizing the use of the term “Polish death camps”

Published on: 15 Mar 2018

March 2018

The Chancellery of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Poland
Prime Minister Beata Szydło
00-583 Warsaw
Al. Ujazdowskie 1/3

Dear Prime Minister Szydło,

In December 2016, then-President of the Canadian Historical Association Dr. Joan Sangster wrote to the Polish Prime Minister, Beata Szydlo, to express concern about legislation then working its way through the Polish Parliament criminalizing the use of the term “Polish death camps” in reference to genocidal acts committed during the Holocaust, on Polish soil. The CHA also expressed concern about the scope of the law, which appeared to apply to historical research on Polish collaboration with Nazi crimes against Jewish people within Polish borders, and the history of violent anti-Semitism in Poland.

We are now re-iterating our opposition to this legislation, which in February 2018 was signed into law by the current Polish government despite criticism from professional associations of historians including the CHA and counterpart organizations internationally. Our concern is that the legislation will suppress the democratic and open discussion of the past, including the history of anti-Semitism and genocidal acts committed within Poland.

The Polish legislation, if not amended or abandoned, will negatively affect the academic freedom of members of our profession. As historians, we are deeply concerned by the possibility that Polish historians may face reprisal, including fines or imprisonment, for research on Polish history during the period of Nazi occupation, the history of anti-Semitism in Poland, and the Jewish experience during the Holocaust in Poland. Such an outcome is obviously unacceptable in a free society.

Historians have played a key role in helping to record and analyze Canada’s own history of anti-Semitism. The freedom to critically engage with Canada’s historical record is of inestimable value not just to the scholarly community, but also to broader public recognition of discrimination and human rights violations against the Jewish community more easily forgotten or ignored. The CHA shares with other scholarly organizations a commitment to research and that allows for disagreement and historical debate. History cannot be bounded by official government sanction.

Therefore, we support a review of the bill by Poland’s constitutional court -- something your government has recently promised. We are hopeful that the law will at a minimum be amended to reflect a higher standard for academic freedom, and a movement away from the criminalization of free thought and speech.


Adele Perry

Canadian Historical Association

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