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Museum Statement On Holocaust Legislation in Poland

Press Contacts


WASHINGTON, D.C. – The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is deeply concerned over legislation adopted by the lower house of the Polish Parliament on January 26, 2018, which would make it illegal to reference the complicity of some Poles for crimes against the Jews committed during the Nazi occupation of the country during the Second World War. The law would chill a free and open dialogue addressing Poland’s history during the Holocaust, including in Polish schools and universities as well as in the media. An accurate understanding of Holocaust history requires an unfettered exchange of ideas in classrooms and among the public.

“Historians of Poland, from both inside and outside the country, have conducted widely respected research on all aspects of the Holocaust in Nazi-occupied Poland that is helping us better understand what made the Holocaust possible,” said Museum Director Sara J. Bloomfield. “In order for Poland to continue to be a leader in Holocaust scholarship the government should allow open-ended debate and research and the healthy discussions it generates.”

Historical Background:

From 1939-1945, Poland was brutally occupied by Nazi Germany. (The Soviet Union occupied eastern Poland between 1939-1941.)  Deemed racially inferior in Nazi racial ideology, almost two million non-Jewish Polish civilians—including tens of thousands of Catholic priests, intellectuals, teachers, and political leaders—were killed by the Germans and millions more were imprisoned and subjected to forced labor. Over 1.5 million Poles were deported as forced laborers.

By the end of the war approximately three million Jews—90% of Poland’s Jewish population—had been murdered in mass shootings and at stationary killing centers in occupied Poland, Auschwitz-Birkenau being the most well known. Many Poles risked their lives to save their Jewish neighbors. Over 6,600 individuals are recognized as “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem, more than from any other country. However, many Poles were complicit in the crimes against Jews. As German forces implemented the mass murder of Jews, they drew upon some Polish agencies, such as Polish police forces and railroad personnel, in the guarding of ghettos and the deportation of Jews to the killing centers. Individual Poles often helped in the identification, denunciation, and hunting down of Jews in hiding, often profiting from associated blackmail, and actively participated in the plunder of Jewish property.

In July 1941, Polish residents of Jedwabne, a small town located in then German-occupied Poland, participated in the murder of hundreds of their Jewish neighbors.

About the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum:

A living memorial to the Holocaust, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum inspires citizens and leaders worldwide to confront hatred, prevent genocide, and promote human dignity. Its far-reaching educational programs and global impact are made possible by generous donors. For more information, visit,