Declaration of the Polish Associations for Jewish Studies and for Yiddish Studies concerning recent legislation on the Institute for National Remembrance
The recent legislation now signed by the President of the Republic of Poland introducing legal sanctions for accusing the Polish state and the Polish nation of cooperation in the Holocaust has caused concern internationally as well as in Poland itself. The Polish Historical Association (Polskie Towarzystwo Historyczne) has warned against the detrimental effects of this legislation.
Also our colleagues pursuing Jewish Studies and those involved in Yiddish Studies have publicly voiced their concerns in the form of a joint open letter to the President of the Republic of Poland, Andrzej Duda. They deplore the stifling effect on civil society involvement, the threat to the international standing of Polish Jewish and Yiddish Studies, and the fact that their expert advice was not sought in the legislative process.
Please find below a translation of the letter. The Executive Committees of the Polish Association for Jewish Studies (Polskie Towarzystwo Studiów Żydowskich – PTSŻ) and of the Polish Association for Yiddish Studies (Polskiego Towarzystwa Studiów Jidyszystycznych – PTSJ) call on the President of the Republic of Poland Andrzej Dudo not to sign the proposed review of the Institute for National Remembrance (IPN) Law (in the meantime, the law has been signed by the Polish president).
The Polish version of the joint letter is available here: http://jewishstudies.pl/pl
Speaking on behalf of the Polish Association for Jewish Studies and of the Polish Association for Yiddish Studies we feel urged to call upon you not to sign the proposed review Law on the Institute for National Remembrance (IPN).
The law which was carried in both the Parliament and the Senate of the Republic of Poland contains, beyond the laudable proposal to fight against the untruthful and insulting term of ‘Polish extermination camps’ and against accusations of the Polish state of collaboration during World War Two, contains proposals which let us fear for the freedom of expression and of opinion in the presentation of historical records and of testimonies, especially in the context of the Polish-Jewish relations during and after World War Two.
The Polish Association for Jewish Studies (PTSŻ) and the Polish Association for Yiddish Studies (PTSJ) are associations of scholars from a large number of Polish universities, and also of local historians and members of civil society who in many cases did more for the improvement of Polish-Jewish relations than the state agencies assigned this task. In particular, we fear the legal persecution of individuals who have contributed very significantly to restore the dignity of victims of German Nazism and their memory – individuals who might not be subsumed in the vague categories of ‘scholarly research and artistic creation,’ categories exempted from the proposed law. What is more, fearing such persecution these individuals might decide to renounce these activities, or limit them considerably. One of the most fundamental objectives of the PTSŻ and the PTSJ is the popularisation and broadening of knowledge. Such activities could in the light of the new legislation become susceptible of state prosecution and even imprisonment. All this might thwart bottom-up civil society involvement.
We also very much regret that in preparation of the carried law no consideration was given to the over thirty years of scholarly achievements of Polish and Jewish intellectuals whose cooperation began with a conference in Oxford in 1984 with the objective to vanquish stereotypes and prejudice on both sides. The words uttered by Prof Jakub Goldberg, that “there is no Polish history without Jewish history, and there is no history of the Jews without Polish history” became the motto of a large number of similar endeavours to assess and commemorate the legacy of a thousand years of Polish Jewry and of cohabitation. The law carried in Parliament and in the Senate as well as the preceding discussion – often devoid of any substantive arguments – risks ruining these obvious achievements which, as is important to emphasise, have served as examples to other countries. We wish to stress that in the course of the debates preceding this legislation, neither Association, both home to scholars pursuing Polish-Jewish Studies in a broad understanding of the term, was consulted or requested to comment.
The Executive Committees of the PTSŻ and the PTSJ believe that the law carried in the Parliament and Senate, and the debates leading to it, damage Polish-Israeli and Polish-Jewish relations not only in the academic sphere, but across the entire range of contacts. They harm the appearance of our Nation, and might considerably harm international academic research concerning the Polish-Jewish legacy, and Polish-Jewish relations. They will undoubtedly impact negatively on the neutrality of Polish centres of academic research, some of which have recently gained a leading role internationally.
For all of these reasons, we urgently appeal to you, Mr President, to veto this law. Simultaneously, we declare for the PTSŻ and the PTSJ that we offer our support in matters of a renewed revision of the proposed legislation on the IPN.
For the Executive Committee of the PTSŻ
Dr hab. Michał Galas (President)
For the Executive Committee of the PTSJ
Dr hab. Magdalena Ruta”
Translation of the letter by Dr François Guesnet (Secretary and Director, European Association for Jewish Studies)