Poland to Amend Controversial Holocaust Bill

June 28, 2018

3 min read

Poland will amend a controversial law that makes it a crime in the country to accuse Poland of having been complicit in Nazi atrocities during World War II.

Asking the parliament to change the existing law on Wednesday, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said the law had not been effective and that he would seek lesser, civil penalties rather than criminal charges.

“ The law did not achieve its goal – defend the good name of Poland,” said Morawiecki in a statement.

The Sejm, the lower house of the Polish parliament, ratified Morawiecki’s request following an emotional session and the measure will now have to be approved by the Senate.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the decision, and also calling on Poland to maintain freedom to research the Holocaust honestly and openly.

In a media statement broadcast from the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv Netanyahu added that Israel and Poland had established teams to reach joint understandings and stressed that both countries condemn anti-Semitism and anti-Polish sentiment.

Netanyahu praised both his Polish counterpart and also his government for establishing an “official Polish group dedicated to the dialogue with its Israeli partners on historical issues relating to the Holocaust” and said the teams had “fulfilled our duty to guarantee the historical truth about the Holocaust.”

At the same time as Netanyahu addressed reporters in Tel Aviv, Morawiecki did the same in Warsaw, telling Polish reporters that the Holocaust was an “unprecedented crime, committed by Nazi Germany against the Jewish nation, including all Poles of Jewish origin.

“Poland has always expressed the highest understanding of the significance of the Holocaust as the most tragic part of the Jewish national experience,” he said.

Outside of Netanyahu’s inner circle, however, reaction to the Polish decision was cool, with opposition parliamentarians and the Yad Vashem national Holocaust memorial left unimpressed by the change.

“(I) hope (the whole law) will be shelved. History cannot be whitewashed and cannot be changed,” Zionist Union chairman Avi Gabbay wrote on Twitter, calling the law a “Holocaust denial law.”.

MK Itzik Shmuli (Zionist Union), who sponsored a response to Poland’s bill with a proposal to criminalize denial or diminishing the role of collaborators with the Nazis in perpetrating the Holocaust, and to guarantee legal protection for Holocaust survivors, educators and tour guides who may be prosecuted in a foreign country for relating historical truths, added that change is “certainly welcome but not enough.

“According to the law, it would still be forbidden to mention the role of some Poles in crimes committed against Jews, except that instead of criminal proceedings, a civil proceeding would be instituted.  We assure the Holocaust survivors that this attempt will not succeed ” he said in a statement.

Avenue of the Righteous Among the Nations in Yad Vashem, Jerusalem (Credit: Yad Vashem)

The Yad Vashem added in a statement that amending the controversial law is a “positive development in the right direction,” but added that “the correct way to combat historical misrepresentations is by reinforcing open, free research and educational activities.

“Yad Vashem reiterates its support for ensuring that educators and researchers are not hindered in grappling with the complex truth of Polish-Jewish relations before, during and after the Holocaust,” the Center said in a statement.

The Polish parliament’s approval of the law in February ignited a diplomatic crisis between Jerusalem and Warsaw. At the time, some senior Israeli diplomats asked Netanyahu to recall Ambassador Anna Azari from Warsaw in protest, and Netanyahu said Israel has “no tolerance” for distorting the truth and rewriting history or denying the Holocaust.

“We will never accept any attempt to rewrite history; we will not accept any restriction on the study of historical truth,”Netanyahu said.

In addition, Education Minister Naftali Bennett instructed schools to devote two hours of class time to lessons about “the involvement of local populations, including in Poland, in the Holocaust of the Jewish people.”

Soon after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki settled the diplomatic skirmish and agreed to open an immediate dialogue to try to reach understandings.

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