Israel slams Holocaust legislation in Poland

Survivors and guests at the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz. A diplomatic row between Poland and Israel brewed over a new Bill passed by Poland as the world marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Saturday.
Survivors and guests at the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz. A diplomatic row between Poland and Israel brewed over a new Bill passed by Poland as the world marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Saturday.PHOTO: REUTERS

Under Bill, phrases like 'Polish death camp' punishable by jail

JERUSALEM • Israel has called on Poland to amend a Bill approved this week by Polish lawmakers that would make it illegal to suggest Poland bore any responsibility for crimes against humanity committed by Nazi Germany on its soil.

The Bill, which would need approval from Poland's Senate and the President to become law, sets stiff fines and prison penalties of up to three years for using phrases such as "Polish death camps" to refer to concentration camps set up by the Nazis in Poland.

The move sparked furious condemnation from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli lawmakers across the political spectrum.

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

Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki responded via Twitter late on 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.

"Jews, Poles and all victims should be guardians of the memory of all who were murdered by German Nazis," he said.

Earlier on Saturday, he marked the 73rd anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz on site at the former Nazi death camp in Oswiecim in southern Poland.

BASELESS

The law is baseless; I strongly oppose it. One cannot change history, and the Holocaust cannot be denied.

ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU

NOT POLISH

Auschwitz-Birkenau is not a Polish name, and 'Arbeit Macht Frei' is not a Polish phrase... Jews, Poles and all victims should be guardians of the memory of all who were murdered by German Nazis.

POLISH PRIME MINISTER MATEUSZ MORAWIECKI, on how the phrase "Polish death camp" is misleading.

As a diplomatic row brewed on the day the world marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Poland's charge d'affaires to Israel was summoned to the Foreign Ministry yesterday, the ministry said.

Meanwhile, Mr Netanyahu said he had instructed the Israeli ambassador to Poland to meet the Polish Prime Minister and express his disapproval.

Poland's Deputy Justice Minister Patryk Jaki, who authored the Bill, said on Twitter that 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".

Yad Vashem, Israel's official Holocaust memorial, agreed with Poland that the term "Polish death camps" was "a historical misrepresentation", but added in a statement that it opposed the new legislation, saying it was "liable to blur the historical truths regarding the assistance the Germans received from the Polish population during the Holocaust".

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. The camps were built and operated by the Nazis after they invaded Poland in 1939.

The Polish government did not surrender to Nazi Germany and its government did not collaborate with the Nazis. Polish officials routinely request corrections when the global media or politicians describe former death camps such as Auschwitz as "Polish".

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 29, 2018, with the headline 'Israel slams Holocaust legislation in Poland'. Print Edition | Subscribe