Teaching about the
Holocaust in Poland
MICHAEL C. STEINLAUF
In post-Communist Poland, attention has finally begun to be paid to the question of how the history of the Jews in Poland, and above all the Holocaust, is taught in Polish schools. In particular, existing textbooks have been subjected to critical analysis. This pioneering undertaking, coupled with ongoing attempts to remedy the deficiencies that these studies have revealed, has been the work of scholars connected to the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw. 1 The purpose of the present chapter is, first of all, to summarize the results of this important work, knowledge of which has largely been confined to Poland. Secondly, I would like to situate the issue of contemporary Polish textbooks in a larger historical context. 2 Here, as elsewhere in the complex history of Polish-Jewish relations, the metaphor of the palimpsest is particularly useful. A palimpsest is a parchment or tablet that has been written upon or inscribed several times without, however, entirely removing the previous texts; these therefore remain at least partially visible. To better understand the astounding absences and distortions concerning Jewish history and the Holocaust in Polish textbooks of the 1990s, it helps to see them as palimpsests, texts through which earlier narratives, the product of earlier moments in Polish history, still partially emerge. It is to these earlier moments and the narratives they inspired that I shall first turn.
In the course of World War II, the Nazis unleashed a merciless physical and moral assault on Poles and Poland. Amidst this hellish onslaught on their own society, Poles witnessed the entire process of the Holocaust, from beginning to end. A handful of Poles saved Jews, some Poles blackmailed, denounced,