How should a country remember its past?

This universal question has been especially painful and complex in Poland, a country that suffered an extraordinarily brutal German occupation in World War II. Poles were both victims of Nazi oppression and murder and perpetrators of violence against their Jewish neighbors.

Memory of the Holocaust in Poland is the subject of intense debate in 2018 as the Polish government has passed a new law that many historians argue is trying to “whitewash” the role of Poles in the Holocaust. The law, in part, makes it a crime “to suggest that Poland bore any responsibility for atrocities committed by Nazi Germany.

Help your students understand the debate and its significance by sharing both the reading from Holocaust and Human BehaviorFacing the Past in Poland” and a February 2018 report from the New York Times, “Poland’s ‘Death Camp’ Law Tears at Shared Bonds of Suffering With Jews.”

Use the following questions to guide a class reflection and discussion after reading:

  • Why does it matter how we remember and understand history?

  • Why do you think the Polish government has tried to influence how history should be remembered in Poland?

  • What does this story suggest about the connection between history and national identity?

  • Elie Wiesel has said, “[I]f anything can, it is memory that will save humanity. For me, hope without memory is like memory without hope.”1 Why does he say that memory will save humanity? What might happen if we don’t remember and confront a violent past? Why is it important to have both memory and hope as we try to solve the problems in our world?

Citations

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