Poland’s new right-wing government wants to change the way children in that country learn about the Holocaust, casting Poles as only victims or heroes. In this new narration, the Polish people were always helping the weak, were good neighbors and cared about minorities.
But this is a fantasy. No nation on Earth can make such a claim. Moreover, it is well documented by historians – most of them Polish – that some Poles acted as perpetrators against Jews seeking help during World War II on Poland territory that was occupied by Nazi Germany. Pogroms of Jews took places in many small towns and villages and this violence did not stop completely when the war was over, including the pogrom in Kielce, 1946. This was one of the reasons why the majority of Jews left Poland after the war.
But in a recently televised interview, newly appointed Minister of Education Anna Zalewska dared to say that that it wasn’t Poles were responsible for those pogroms, but anti-Semites of unknown origin.
Since coming to power last year, the Law and Justice Party has made new rules in public institutions, appointing new chairmen and throwing out people who have different points of view. The new elected chair of the biggest state run Institute of National Remembrance – the institute responsible for research and education about contemporary history – said in a public hearing in the Polish parliament that the 1941 pogrom in Jedwabne, when Poles burned alive more than 300 Jews in a barn, was committed only by Germans. This is 100 percent a lie.
Scholars from all over the world protest against such primitive statements. The director of Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews, along with the heads of Polish Jewish organizations and the chief rabbi of Poland invited the Polish minister of education to visit the museum and learn the true history, but in my opinion, what is most important is that Polish teachers took a stand. Below you can read an open letter written by Polish teachers protesting against distortion of historical facts and spreading lies about Polish history. Teachers who wrote this letter took responsibility for many others who feel the same way. As I write this, there are 1,657 other Polish teachers who signed it. You can see the petition here.
It is very important to mention that among the initiators of this letter are Adam Musiał, a graduate from the Institute’s Master Teachers Program and the participant of Auschwitz – Past is Present program; Barbara Subko, a graduate from Master Teachers Program; Bożenna Sucharska, a graduate from Master Teachers Program – IV edition in Poland; and Robert Szuchta, the first author of the Polish lesson published on Polish portal of USC Shoah Foundation.
The letter below has spread all over Polish media and has become a part of Public discussion about changes in Polish education that were already introduced by new government and its impact on Polish teachers and students.
AN OPEN LETTER FROM POLISH TEACHERS ABOUT THE MANIPULATION OF RECENT POLISH HISTORY
Deep knowledge and respect for human beings are among the most important aspects of education. They are largely shaped by the teaching of history, and particularly of events that constitute a watershed in the history of mankind and have an effect on the present. The Holocaust of the Jewish people was such an event. Its unprecedented and tragic character calls for careful consideration and prudence in commenting on it and teaching about it.
We teachers, pursuing a profession of public trust, are deeply alarmed by the public statements of high-ranking state officials about wartime and post-war events in Polish history.
Minister of Education, Anna Zalewska, in her public appearance avoided giving a clear and lucid answer to an explicit question about the perpetrators of the crimes against Jews in Jedwabne and Kielce, thus undermining the findings of historians and prosecutors who have established without doubt the responsibility of elements of the Polish population for these atrocities.
We were also astounded by the statement of Dr Jarosław Szarek, the newly appointed President of the Institute of National Remembrance (a centre wishing to play a crucial role in historical education), who placed the burden of responsibility for the Jedwabne murder exclusively on the Germans.
As teachers, we strive to broaden our knowledge and improve our pedagogical skills in the field of Holocaust education in order to make our students responsible and conscious citizens of Poland, Europe and the world. Our work is received with recognition and admiration by many educational institutions and research centres all over the world. We were thus all the more astonished by the public statement of Dr Marek Chrzanowski, a history teacher running for the President of the Institute of National Remembrance, who openly admitted his ignorance and inability in teaching about the extermination of Polish Jews.
We perceive such statements as attempts to manipulate history. Guided in our pedagogical work by a sense of responsibility in conveying knowledge that is historically accurate, we have no doubt that the crimes in Jedwabne and Kielce were perpetrated by Poles. We have in full consciousness taken upon ourselves the task of educating our students about that difficult and painful page in our nation’s past.
We object to any actions that grossly contradict substantiated knowledge and are indicative of an attempt to manipulate historical facts. We call for adherence and dedication to facts and for prudence in formulating statements about the period in question. Rigorous academic and educational achievements of scholars and teachers respectively should not be discarded.
Adam Musiał, teacher of English and Cultural Studies, Kraków
Małgorzata Rusiłowicz, teacher of Polish, Białystok
Barbara Subko, teacher of Polish, Warsaw
Bożenna Sucharska, teacher of Polish and Cultural Studies, Gdańsk
Robert Szuchta, teacher of History, Warsaw
Agnieszka Wozowicz, teacher of Art History, Kraków