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George and Irina Schaeffer Center

When Denial Becomes State Policy

University Room: David T. McGovern Grand Salon (C-104)
Thursday, April 5, 2018 - 17:30 to 19:30

The George and Irina Schaeffer Center for the Study of Genocide, Human Rights and Conflict Prevention is pleased to announce a guest lecture by Elżbieta Janicka on "When Denial Becomes State Policy: The Origins and Significance of the New Holocaust-Speech Law in Poland."

How could it happen that a democratically elected parliament in an independent Poland – member of NATO and the EU – could pass a law criminalizing free debate about the Holocaust? How could such a law enjoy 70% public support, given that half of the six million victims of the Holocaust were citizens of Poland?

It is impossible to understand these developments without looking at the Polish context of the Holocaust, the Nazi German crime perpetrated on the Jews of occupied Europe. We also need to see how postwar Polish society and culture have systematically avoided a confrontation with their own anti-Semitism, as well as with the role played by the country's dominant group in the structure of the crime. The durable and deep-rooted nature of the problem is apparent in the fact that “regaining independence” in 1989 did not change anything in this regard. A turning point seem poised to happen in the year 2000, when Jan Gross's publications about the role of Poles in the Holocaust sparked a nationwide debate. The prospect of Poland's accession to the EU in 2004 – with the requirement to accept European norms and values – seemed to make it only more likely that a reckoning would soon take place. But this never happened.

The lecture will offer a cultural-historical analysis of the mechanisms that have led not to a breakthrough, but to an unprecedented regression in Poland's reckoning with its past. We will try to make sense of the fact that the current Prime Minister of Poland, a country proud of its membership in the anti-Hitler coalition, can freely deploy anti-Semitic rhetoric and pay official homage to Polish wartime collaborators of the Nazis.


Elżbieta Janicka is a historian of literature at the Institute of Slavic Studies, Polish Academy of Sciences (ISS PAS). After an M.A. from the Université Paris VII Denis Diderot, she received her PhD from Warsaw University. Her research interests concern the cultural patterns, narratives, and phantasms legitimizing violence and exclusion. Elżbieta Janicka is the author of the following books:

  • Sztuka czy Naród? Monografia pisarska Andrzeja Trzebińskiego [Art or Nation? On Andrzej Trzebiński’s Literary Output] (2006) – a monograph of the avant-guarde poet (1921-1943) and member of Polish fascist organization (Konfederacja Narodu), killed by the German Nazis;
  • Festung Warschau (2011) – a critical examination of the symbolic topography of the former Warsaw Ghetto, and the various narrative attempts to “de-Holocaustize” the Holocaust, “Holocaustize” the Polish past, and to impose and the double genocide theory and the myth of a Judeo-communism;
  • Philo-Semitic Violence: New Polish Narratives about Jews after 2000 (2016, co-authored with Tomasz Żukowski) – an analysis of selected examples of Polish philo-Semitic initiatives, demonstrating how philo-Semitism entails an uninterrupted reproduction and transmission of anti-Semitic cultural patterns.


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