Polish Memory, Jewish Memory: The Debate over the Polish “Holocaust Law”

6 September, 2018

A seminar with Professor Daniel Blatman

Supported by the Department of Hebrew, Biblical and Jewish Studies, Department of History and European Studies program

In July 1986 the Israeli Knesset passed a bill that criminalises Holocaust denial in Israel. The bill states, inter alia, that “A person who, in writing or by word of mouth, publishes any statement expressing praise or sympathy for or identification with acts done in the period of the Nazi regime, which are crimes against the Jewish people or crimes against humanity, shall be liable to imprisonment for a term of five years”.

Last January Poland’s senate passed a controversial bill that outlaws blaming Poland for any crimes committed during the Holocaust. The bill states that “whoever claims, publicly and contrary to the facts, that the Polish Nation or the Republic of Poland is responsible or co-responsible for Nazi crimes committed by the Third Reich…or for other felonies that constitute crimes against peace, crimes against humanity or war crimes, or whoever otherwise grossly diminishes the responsibility of the true perpetrators of said crimes – shall be liable to a fine or imprisonment for up to 3 years”. 

In this presentation it will be argued that “Holocaust legislation”, both in Israel and Poland, is scientifically influenced by a certain understanding and interpretation of the history of World War II and the Nazi and Stalinist genocides. Writing history in both countries is dominated by nation-building processes, national memory, national victimhood and contemporary political issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This puts an insurmountable barrier for historians to write a real comprehensive and multi-faceted history of the genocides in Poland. 

Speaker biography

Daniel Blatman is the Max and Rita Haber Professor in Contemporary Jewry and Holocaust Studies and the head of the Research Institute of Contemporary Jewry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He has published various articles and books on the history of Polish Jewry in the 20th century, the Jewish labor movement in Eastern Europe, the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto, Polish-Jewish Relations during the Holocaust and its aftermath, Nazi extermination policy, and on Polish-Jewish historiography, among them: For our Freedom and Yours: The Jewish Labor Bund in Poland 1939-1945 (2003, Hebrew, English, French), Reportage from the Ghetto: The Jewish Underground Press in the Warsaw Ghetto (2005, Hebrew, French), and The Death Marches, The Final Phase of Nazi Genocide (2011, English, Hebrew, French, German, and Italian). He is the winner of the Jacob Buchman memorial prize, the Yad Vashem International Prize in Holocaust Studies in memory of Abraham Schwartzbaum, and finalist at the National Jewish Book Award for his book on the Death Marches.

Professor Blatman has served as a visiting professor and research fellow in several academic institutions among them: École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS), Centre d’Etudes des Religions du Livre (CERL-CNRS), Institut d'histoire du temps présent (IHTP), Georgetown University, New York University, Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, and the Center for European Studies (CES) at Harvard University. 

Location: Kevin Lee Room, Level 6, Lobby H, Quadrangle Building (A14)

Contact:Dr Michael Abrahams-Sprod