Warsaws Populist Right Whitewashes Holocaust History

2 months, 21 days ago

The firing of the Polish Institute director in Berlin has drawn attention to the way Warsaw is fine-tuning a tragic history: less about Jewish victims, more about Polish ones.”>

BERLIN She didnt even get to say goodbye to her colleagues.

Katarzyna Wielga-Skolimowska was given 24 hours to clear out her office, until the end of the month to vacate her flat, and is forbidden to talk to the press about any of it.

The elegant redhead, who is credited for her knowledge of architecture and theater, was abruptly fired from her job as director of the Polish cultural institute in Berlin last week. Did her programs have too much Jewish content, as Israels Haaretz headlined bluntly? The Forward in the United States stimulated that a question: Was Polish Culture Institute Director Fired for Too Much Jewish-Themed Content?

As various hypothesis circulate in Berlin about why, one thing is clearthat this is the latest attempt of Polands revolutionary nationalist government to revamp its image abroad , not least by playing down any Polish role in the Holocaust. A statute proposed last summer, for instance, would make it international crimes to use the phrase Polish death camps for, say, Auschwitz, which was a Nazi death camp in occupied Poland .~ ATAGEND

Everything points to the fact that the dismissal[ of the Polish Institute Director] was politically motivated, Berlinische Galerie director Thomas Khler tells The Daily Beast. Her contract would have ended next year. This was clearly intended as a punishmentIts really bad form.

Together with other leading culture fanatics in the capital, Khler signed a protest letter that carried dismay and irritation at the sudden dismissal. Cilly Kugelmann, who directs the Jewish Museum in Berlin, initiated the letter.

Last year, the Polish Institute screened Ida, an Oscar-winning Polish film about a Catholic woman who detects she is the Jewish child of Holocaust victims. But while proving the cinema may have gone down well in Berlin, it could have been another ten-strike against Wielga-Skolimowska for Warsaw.

Since Polands Law and Justice Party won elections in 2015, the Warsaw government has been going to great pains to recalibrate many of the ways in which Poles guess, talk and learn about their own history .~ ATAGEND And to some, it looks like Law and Justice wants to whitewash a lot of the countrys history, even the Shoah, by appealing to nationalist pride.

The way in which Ida was broadcast on public television in Poland this year has provided one ground for such mistrust. The cinema that had won best movie award at the Polish Film Academy in 2013 was this time accompanied by a 12 -minute clip in which three critics tore into it, warning about supposed historical inaccuracies.

In October, Wielga-Skolimowska received a damning internal evaluation by the newly appointed Polish ambassador to Berlin, Andrzej Przylebski. Among other things, he warned her , not to overdo theemphasisparticularly inGermany, which should not receive the role of mediatoron the importance of Polish-Jewish dialogue as the main example ofintercultural dialogue which takes place in Poland.

So this week, the left-leaning Berlin paper TAZ preferred the provocative title Warsaw Purges in Berlin to report on Wielga-Skolimowskas dismissal. Two other papers followed suit and claimed that Wielga-Skolimowska was fired for over emphasizing Jewish topics. The topic, as noted, was picked up by the Israeli press. And the Polish embassy was not happy. Both the Berliner Zeitung and the Tageszeitung received a letter demanding a correction.

Law and Justice is not generally considered an anti-Semitic party , not least because it is very pro-Israel. And according to political scientist Janusz Bugajski, despite Polands shady new attitude to historical accuracy, there is also sensitivity that Germany is still scaping a full accounting of World War II war crimes and that Poles as a nation are depicted as anti-Semites.

In his evaluation, Ambassador Przylebski also accused Wielga-Skolimowska of having done a bad undertaking inviting guests and choosing topics. The blind imitation of nihilistic and hedonistic tendencies does not lead to anything good in terms of civilization. he wrote, instead mysteriously and apocalyptically. Poland must resist this.

Wielga-Skolimowska is the 14 th out of 24 Polish Institute directors around the world to be fired this year, and the reasons vary. Vienna was forced to stop working with an Austrian journalist and writer after he criticised Law and Justice in his articles. But the director in Madrid already had to go for not focusing enough on Chopin.

The Polish government is really celebrating national pride now, Khler muses, and you can understand that: the country has a nasty history. But I expect that now theyll be doing a very conservative backwards program, with uncritical novelists, artists, and Chopin evenings. I dont know if Ill still feel like going.

Bugajski, the political scientist , notes that Ambassador Przylebski, at the very least, seems to be repeating the various kinds of speech that communists utilized against decadent Western bourgeois art. He adds, It simply shows you that politicians should not try to be culture critics.

This advice was not heeded in November, when Przylebski valiantly tried and failed to organize the German premiere of the regimes first blatant propaganda cinema, Smolensk, which claims that a 2010 plane crash that killed 95 passengers, including then-president Leck Kaczynskim, was actually an act of Russian terrorism. Every cinema in Berlin refused to show the cinema, clumsily quoting safety concerns.

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