Warsaw, Poland – A recent study has taken a close look at how European countries deal with their past and come to terms with the mass killing of their Jewish population during World War II. It found that Holocaust revisionism is particularly strong in some of the EU’s eastern member states, especially in Poland and Hungary, as well as Lithuania and Croatia.
Holocaust revisionism increases in Poland and Hungary
The Holocaust Revisionist Report, published on January 25 by researchers from Yale University and Grinnell College and endorsed by the European Union of Progressive Judaism (EUJP), points to countries where government are attempting, both through rhetoric, education and legislation, to minimize the role of their country in the mass killing of Jews during World War II.
“Many European Union governments are rehabilitating World War II collaborators and war criminals while minimising their own guilt in the attempted extermination of Jews”, it writes, underlying that the worse situation can be observed in Poland, Hungary, Croatia and Lithuania, while “two exemplary countries living up to their tragic histories are the Czech Republic and Romania”.
Home to some 100.000 Jews, Hungary “suffers from grave deficiencies in its Holocaust education, memory and commemoration”, according to the report. “The country’s right-wing government has attempted to rehabilitate wartime figures as anti-communist icons” and “inflates Hungary’s role in ‘saving’ the Jews of Budapest and minimises discourse on their own complicity in deporting and killing Jews”. Viktor Orban’s government has long been accused of creating an antisemitic climate, exemplified by his attacks against and portrayal of Hungarian-American financier George Soros as the arch-enemy trying to corrupt the country with immigrants and pernicious liberal values.
“Holocaust remembrance is under clear threat” in Poland as well, according to the study, that points out the current government’s failure to provide an accurate and balanced narrative regarding the Holocaust and crimes of the World War II period. Last year, the Polish government ruled by the conservative Law and Justice party came under fire for attempting to pass a so-called “Holocaust law”, aimed at criminalizing the attribution of Nazi crimes to Poles and to Poland, including the use of the term “Polish death camps”. In face of mounting international pressure, including from the United States and Israel, the Polish government eventually watered down the bill.
“Errors and misrepresentation” of the report
After the release of the study, however, critics pointed out many mistakes of the report. “I don’t dispute there are problems here, but the report is full of errors and misrepresentation”, argued Daniel Tilles, who co-edits Notes From Poland. He underscored that “Poland didn’t exist in World War II” and that arguing that it had a role in “facilitating genocide” is too strong a term – although “some individuals and groups of Poles killed Jews”.
He also reminded that several Nazi concentration camps, including Auschwitz, were “originally established as a concentration camp for Polish prisoners”, not specifically for the Jewish population, and that an equal number of Polish Jews (3 million, 90% of the total) and non-Jewish Poles (3 million, 10% of the total) died during World War II.
Signs of growing antisemitism in Europe
This report comes at a time where many studies point to growing antisemitism in Europe. According to a Eurobarometer published last month, half of European respondents believe that antisemitism in a problem in their country and more than a third of them (36%) consider that antisemitism has increased in their country during the past five years. This was only the case of a small minority in Hungary (26%), Poland (18%), Slovakia (15%) and the Czech Republic (13%), while a majority of respondents in Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands, France and Denmark believe that antisemitism has increased in the last few years.
Another survey by the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) and released by the European Commission a few weeks ago found that 90% of European Jews consider antisemitism has increased, and that nearly a third of them skipped attending events or visiting Jewish sites because they don’t feel safe.