“Remembrance work remains to be done in Poland”

INTERVIEW – The Polish-Canadian historian and professor at the University of Ottawa is a son of Holocaust survivors. He appealed against a conviction at first instance for defamation after the publication of a collective work Further on, it’s still night.

LE FIGARO. – Does the museum of the memory of the inhabitants of the lands of Oswiecim respond to the desire to herald Polish behavior during the Second World War?

Jan GRABOWSKI.- It is part of the diversion of the Shoah: we replace the Jews, who are not convenient, by the good Poles. This is a trend that we have seen at work for several years, even before PiS came to power (in 2015, Editor’s note). Any discussion of the Shoah immediately slips towards the “Righteous Polish”, on those who brought aid to the Jews, as if they were representative of the whole of Polish society during the war, which does not is not the case. We cannot speak of the Righteous Poles without mentioning those who did just the opposite. 1% of Polish Jews survived the war, compared to 75% in France. I know that the terror regime was different in the two countries, but in Poland, such a figure can be explained by the complicity and anti-Semitism of the time.

How to explain this tendency to put forward the acts of the Polish Righteous?

National identity in Poland is built around an ethos from World War II: Poland is the great victim of history. And in the memory of a victim, it is very difficult to find room for the memory of even more vulnerable victims. In France, from the 1990s, it was recognized that the Resistance was not the path chosen by all French people. Today, my colleagues who write about French complicity during the war are not outcasts as I am now in Poland.

We avoid having to question what we take for granted. Under normal conditions, the State should intervene to facilitate this procedure.

Jan Grabowski

Why does the ruling party cling so much to this view of historical facts?

The PiS knows very well that it can look for voters in this way. Moreover, this party has a project for a new society based on ethnicity, to the detriment of an identity based on citizenship. It was enough to see last year that in the presidential election the main enemy of the people was the LGBT community. It recalls the years 1920-1930 and the exclusion of the Jews …

The PiS therefore seeks, in your opinion, to evade its duty of memory …

It’s a very human choice: we avoid having to question what we take for granted. Under normal conditions, the State should intervene to facilitate this procedure. It is always easier to maintain an optimistic view, even if it means that it is false. In Poland, in fifty years, nothing has really changed. There was certainly a debate around the book Neighbors (on a Jewish community massacred by its Polish neighbors in 1941, Editor’s note), but it was confined to the intelligentsia. In the schools, there was almost nothing. And today we return to the situation of 1956-1958. There is a memorial work that remains to be done.

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