A new Polish law that would make it illegal in Poland to suggest that the Polish government and people bore responsibility for the crimes committed on their land during the Holocaust has outraged Israeli leaders, according to the Financial Times.
Poland’s lower house voted to approve the law on Friday through a series of changes that would make it a crime punishable with up to three years in jail to accuse the Polish nation or state “publicly and against the facts” of being “responsible or complicit in” Nazi war crimes.
As many Americans will remember, President Obama inadvertently sparked a minor diplomatic crisis back in 2012 when he referred to a “Polish death camp” instead of a “Nazi death camp” while conferring the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Jan Karski, a hero of the Polish resistance.
Obama’s phrasing elicit a vehement denunciation from former Polish PM Donald Tusk. Initial White House apologies were rebuffed while Polish politicians demanded that Obama “correct the record”.
Concentration camps like Auschwitz were built on Polish land by the Nazis following the German invasion and occupation of Poland in 1939.
Though the law must still be approved by Poland’s upper house of Parliament and its president, it has already provoked an outraged response from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who described the law as “baseless” and suggested it was tantamount to an official denial of the Holocaust.
“One cannot change history and the Holocaust cannot be denied. I have instructed the Israeli Ambassador to Poland to meet with the Polish prime minister this evening and express to him my strong position against the law,” Netanyahu said.
In a sign of the sensitivities surrounding the issue, Yair Lapid, the son of a Holocaust survivor and head of Israel’s centrist Yesh Atid party became embroiled in a heated row on Twitter with the Polish Embassy in Israel after he tweeted that the law “tries to deny Polish complicity in the Holocaust.”
אני מגנה בכל תוקף את החוק החדש שעבר בפולין המנסה להכחיש את מעורבות אזרחים פולנים רבים בשואה.
אף חוק פולני לא ישנה את ההיסטוריה, פולין הייתה שותפה לשואה. מאות אלפי יהודים נרצחו על אדמתה מבלי לפגוש קצין גרמני אחד.
— יאיר לפיד (@yairlapid) January 27, 2018
Your unsupportable claims show how badly Holocaust education is needed, even here in Israel
— שגרירות פולין (@PLinIsrael) January 27, 2018
The embassy responded by saying his claims were “unsupportable” and showed “how badly Holocaust education is needed, even here in Israel.”
Patryk Jaki, Poland’s deputy justice minister, who proposed the legislation, said that the bill was not “against Israel”, but aimed to “properly point out the perpetrators”. The reaction in Israel was “proof of how necessary this project is”, he added.
Mateusz Morawiecki, Poland’s prime minister, said that Poland and Israel had agreed in 2016 to oppose any attempts to distort Jewish or Polish history, either by downplaying the suffering of Jews during the Holocaust or by using “erroneous terms such as ‘Polish death camps’”.
Polska i Izrael w 2016 wydały wspólne oświadczenie, w którym sprzeciwiają się wszelkim próbom wypaczania historii narodów żydowskiego lub polskiego przez negowanie lub umniejszanie ofiary Żydów podczas Holokaustu lub stosowanie błędnych terminów takich jak “polskie obozy śmierci”
— Mateusz Morawiecki (@MorawieckiM) January 27, 2018
“Auschwitz-Birkenau is not a Polish name, and Arbeit Macht Frei is not a Polish phrase,” he tweeted, referring to the slogan ‘work sets you free’ on the concentration camp’s entrance.
The Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem said the law was “liable to blur the historical truths regarding the assistance the Germans received from the Polish population during the Holocaust.”
“Restrictions on statements by scholars and others regarding the Polish people’s direct or indirect complicity with the crimes committed on their land during the Holocaust are a serious distortion,” the center said in a statement.
Poland’s foreign ministry insisted the law would not impede “freedom of research” and “discussions on history or artistic activity.”