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Rewriting History in Eastern Europe

Poland's New Holocaust Law and the Politics of the Past

Supporters of the Holocaust bill gather in front of the Presidential Palace in Warsaw, February 2018. Agencja Gazeta / Reuters

Last week, Polish President Andrzej Duda signed a controversial law criminalizing statements that attribute responsibility for the Holocaust and other Nazi atrocities to “the Polish nation.” In a televised speech, Duda said that the law protects Poland’s interests, dignity, and the historical truth, “so that we are not slandered.” The move sparked an outcry in Western countries. Human Rights Watch warned that it would have “a chilling effect on free expression.” Jean-Yves Le Drian, France’s foreign minister, said that the Polish government should not attempt to “rewrite history.” And Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the law “baseless.” “I strongly oppose it,” he said. “One cannot change history and the Holocaust cannot be denied.”

The law is just the latest part of a broader effort at historical revisionism. Last year, Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party (known as PiS) took over a World War II museum in

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