On October 23, Wojciech Soczewica, Director General of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation, discussed the importance of preserving history during a presentation at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center.
The Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation was established by the Polish government in 2009 to educate future generations on what transpired there by preserving the architecture and artifacts of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Site without altering history. Over the years, the foundation recovered almost 1,000 personal items of prisoners, Soczewica said.
Nearly 75 years after the end of the Holocaust, the Foundation educates about the fight against Nazi Germany's plan to extinguish Jewish life in Eastern Europe, and counteracts those who deny the Holocaust. Soczewica said the Foundation's mission is more critical now than ever, with the rise of global antisemitism coupled with a resurgence of populist leaders - foreboding signs that history could repeat itself.
Unfortunately, hardline right-wing elements within the Polish government have actively engaged in Holocaust distortion. Last year's proposed amendment to the Act on the Institute of National Remembrance would have effectively criminalized use of the terms "Polish death camp" and "Polish concentration camp." It was felt that these terms asserted the willing involvement of the general Polish population in the Holocaust, while deniers claimed that those atrocities were committed against the will of the Polish people.
The consensus of historians and survivors, however, is that many Poles were in fact complicit, and even active participants, in perpetrating the Holocaust.
Following international outcry, the amendment received only a slight revision that modified the criminal offense against the "good name" of Poland to a civil offense.
Soczewica, said the Foundation was not consulted on the law. "While some of our ancestors did heroic things, it is important to acknowledge that many of them have also committed horrible acts," he said.
Jake Chernoff is a program associate, JUF Public Affairs.