Friday, February 2, 2018
H.E. Mateusz Morawiecki
Republic of Poland
Al. Ujazdowskie 1/3
February 2, 2018
I write as a friend of Poland and as someone who was deeply honored to receive from the Republic of Poland in 2010 at a ceremony in Warsaw the Odznake Honorowa za Zaslugi dla Ochrony Praw Czlowieka in recognition of my work in defense of human rights.
I wish to express my concern about proposed legislation that could restrict or have the effect of discouraging historical scholarship and freedom of speech concerning the Shoah and the death camps that the Third Reich placed on Polish soil.
I understand and, of course, share the legitimate concern of your government not to have Poland and the Polish people, who so nobly resisted the Nazis and who suffered so greatly under their tyranny, falsely accused of crimes they did not commit. Millions of non-Jewish Poles and others were murdered along with Polish Jews and Jews of other nationalities in the Shoah. No one’s victimization and suffering must be forgotten or minimized. And it is to the credit and glory of Poland and the Polish people that so many Poles are among the rescuers and resisters who are honored as “Righteous among the Gentiles” at Yad Vashem.
I'm sure you will agree, however, that it is also important for the truth to be told about the willing complicity of some non-Jews, including some who were Polish, in anti-Semitic acts, denunciations, and even the operation of the death camps. The freedom to tell the whole truth about the Shoah must be recognized and treated as sacrosanct. This unavoidably means tolerating some abuses of freedom of speech by people who will say things that are false and even unjust. To use the force of criminal law to prevent such abuses from ever occurring would inevitably have a chilling effect on historical debate and scholarship.
Please do not take my plain speaking on this issue to mean that I am presuming to lecture my Polish friends or assume a position of moral superiority. I am not. As an American, I recognize that along with many acts of virtue and heroism in my own nation’s history—acts for which Americans are justly proud—there are also horrible injustices and other evils that stain our nation’s conscience, including injustices in which some illustrious Americans whom we venerate for other reasons were personally implicated. We continue to this day to struggle, for example, with our history of slavery and racial injustice, a struggle deepened by the fact that some of our Founding Fathers (including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison) owned slaves.
I understand, appreciate, and share your government’s objection to the phrase “Polish death camps” as a description of the killing factories placed by the Third Reich on Polish soil. The phrase is all-too-easily interpreted as suggesting that Poland and the Polish people established and operated the camps. That is false and slanderous. Objecting to it is reasonable and setting the historical record straight is necessary. But it is critically important that freedom of speech be respected and that no legislation be put into place that could impede robust discussion and debate about the Shoah, including discussion of anti-Semitism and collaboration in Poland and elsewhere.
I commend your government for your willingness to open a dialogue with the government of Israel on this matter. I am confident that goodwill on both sides can produce an outcome that honors the interest shared by decent people of all nationalities and faiths in ensuring fairness and truth in the telling of the story of the Shoah.
Robert P. George
McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence