Israel, Poland in row over bill banning statements implicating Poles in Holocaust

The "Arbeit Macht Frei" gate at the former Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz, in Oswiecim, Poland. PHOTO: REUTERS

JERUSALEM (AFP, Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accused Poland of denying history with a Bill outlawing any reference to the Nazi death camps in the country as being Polish.

"The law is baseless. I strongly oppose it. One cannot change history and the Holocaust cannot be denied," the premier said in a statement.

As a diplomatic row brewed on the day the world marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Poland's charge d'affaires to Israel has been summoned to the foreign ministry on Sunday, the ministry said.

A Israeli foreign ministry official told AFP the Polish bill was "an attempt to rewrite and falsify history, something that the Jewish people and Israel will never accept".

Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki responded via Twitter late Saturday saying: " Auschwitz-Birkenau is not a Polish name, and Arbeit Macht Frei is not a Polish phrase" in reference to the words posted on the Nazi camp's infamous wrought-iron gate that mean "Work makes you free" in German.

"Auschwitz is the most bitter lesson on how evil ideologies can lead to hell on earth. Jews, Poles, and all victims should be guardians of the memory of all who were murdered by German Nazis."

Poland's Deputy Justice Minister Patryk Jaki, who authored the bill, said on Twitter it was not directed against Israel.

"Important Israeli politicians and media are attacking us for the bill ... On top of that they claim that Poles are'co-responsible' for the Holocaust," he said, adding that "this is proof how necessary this bill is."

The Polish government said the bill did not aim to limit freedom to research or discuss the Holocaust, or to restrict freedom of artistic activity related to the issue.

Poles have fought for years against the use of phrases like"Polish death camps", which suggest the Polish state was at least partly responsible for the camps where millions of people, mostly Jews, were killed by Nazi Germany. The camps were built and operated by the Nazis after they invaded Poland in 1939.

Earlier on Saturday Polish leaders marked the 73 anniversary of of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi concentration camp on Polish soil.

Poland's rightwing-dominated parliament on Friday adopted legislation that sets fines or a maximum three-year jail term for anyone who refers to Nazi German death camps as being Polish.

Six million citizens

The measure is intended to apply to both Polish citizens and foreigners. It is expected to easily pass in the Senate before being signed by the president.

Poland was attacked and occupied by Nazi Germany in World War II, losing six million of its citizens, including three million Jews in the Holocaust.

Polish officials routinely request corrections when global media or politicians describe as "Polish" the former death camps such as Auschwitz set up by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland.

The Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem said it "opposes the new legislation passed by the Polish parliament, which is liable to blur the historical truths regarding the assistance the Germans received from the Polish population during the Holocaust".

But it added: "There is no doubt that the term 'Polish death camps' is a historical misrepresentation."

On a sterner tone, Israel's Education and Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett instructed schools to dedicate two hours this week to study about the involvement of European nations in the Holocaust.

"This is a shameful disregard of the truth. It is a historic fact that many Poles aided in the murder of Jews, handed them in, abused them, and even killed Jews during and after the Holocaust," he said.

"It is also a historic fact that the Germans initiated, planned and built the work and death camps in Poland. That is the truth, and no law will rewrite it. These facts must be taught to the next generation."

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