Enacted Upon The Theatre Of Time

Countries like to practice revisionist history. The old adage that the winner writes the history books is absolutely true. The Director of the FBI, James Comey, learned that lesson recently when he caused an international incident whilst speaking at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. In his speech, which was about the need for Holocaust education, Comey said “In their minds, the murderers and accomplices of Germany, and Poland, and Hungary, and so many, many other places didn’t do something evil. They convinced themselves it was the right thing to do, the thing they had to do.” Poland took particular offence to this statement, demanding the US Ambassador present himself for a thorough scolding followed by an apology.

Ewa Kopacz, the Prime Minister of Poland, told the US that “those who are incapable of presenting the historic truth in an honest way, I want to say that Poland was not a perpetrator but a victim of world war two. I would expect full historical knowledge from officials who speak on the matter.” Now the State Department and US ambassador to Poland are doing everything they can to reassure the Prime Minister that US position on the Holocaust is that it was entirely, and solely, the fault and responsibility of Nazi Germany. The US ambassador said that it would take ‘time and work’ to get the US back in the good graces of the Polish PM.

Except, see, the thing is, Comey isn’t wrong. Holocaust history has always been a touchy subject. While it was happening the world ignored its existence. When Allied troops pushed deep into Germany and Belgium and Poland and walked right into the camps, it couldn’t be ignored any longer. So then the arguments started over how many, who, why. It wasn’t until 1985 that the world finally acknowledge that homosexuals were sent to concentration camps and officially considered them a group of people who were persecuted during the Holocaust. There are still many unanswered questions, questions that will probably never be answered. The point being this: the history of the Holocaust, the facts which make up what we know, changes frequently. And really, that’s true of history in general. We find new things, we discovered kings buried in car parks, we learn something new every time an school boy stumbles over an abandoned Bronze Age village. But there are things we do know to be true of the Holocaust, and Nazi Germany’s occupation in general: there were collaborators and sympathisers and those who believed Hitler was going to save the world in EVERY. SINGLE. COUNTRY. The impact of collaborators and sympathisers is easier to see in occupied nations than it is in Allied nations, and part of that is implicit assistance in the Holocaust.

After WWII, the idea that ‘he was just following orders’ was an excuse for war crimes was blown out of the water. Hundreds of Nazi officers and officials were prosecuted for war crimes. Those who weren’t, fled. There are still former Nazi officers with INTERPOL warrants out for their arrest, and there are still those being found and prosecuted even though old age often results in very bad PR shots. However, civilian sympathisers, those who helped the Nazis in a more informal capacity? They were just civilians… victims if you will. Sure, a few who had direct ties to Nazi officials or specific camps have found themselves in front of a tribunal. But for the most part, after the war, they went back to the lives they’d lived before. Poland is no different.

Yes, the Nazi occupation of Poland was horrifically brutal. Hundreds of thousands of Poles were killed in ghettos and death camps, and by disease and starvation and brutality. But that doesn’t mean that Poland was immune from sympathisers and collaborators.

Poland had the same anti-Semitic views as Nazi Germany (as did every other country in the 1930s) and there were many Nazi collaborators in Poland both before, and after, the invasion in 1939. There were many who agreed with Nazi philosophy… including those in positions of power. For the Polish PM to categorically deny any Polish assistance to the Nazi regime, in particular the death camps, would be like saying HUAC never found an actual communist, or that every single German person agreed with Hitler’s regime. Categorical statements like that ignore historical fact (or create a ‘falsification of history,’ which is what the US ambassador to Poland accused the FBI director of).

Politicians use, and abuse, history all the time. Historians have complained about it for millennia. And unfortunately, there’s no way to stop history being used for politics sake. But let’s be real: when a man stands up in front of a crowd and uses facts that you may not like, but they are facts (and thus, inarguable), lets accept for a moment the point he’s trying to make. There absolutely is a lack of education surrounding the Holocaust. It’s something you learn in secondary school happened, and that’s it. The facts are something most people never take the time to learn (much like Japanese internment in the US during the war). Instead of scolding a man for making a point, let’s instead educate our kids about the parts of history that are touchy in an attempt to prevent it happening again. And instead of letting the PM of Poland’s obviously oversensitivity result in revisionist history for politics sake, let’s acknowledge that every country was complacent and allowed it to happen. The suffer of those who endured the death camps, occupation, internment camps, and ghettos needs to be remembered, and not become international incidents when that truth is hard to hear.

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