Netanyahu slams Polish Holocaust bill, says ‘one cannot change history’

Netanyahu and Israeli leaders across the political spectrum slammed a Polish law that bans using phrases such as “Polish death camps,” saying it was a failed attempt at fake history and even Holocaust denial. 

By: World Israel News Staff

The lower house of the Polish parliament passed a bill on Friday that prohibits any references to Polish involvement in the Holocaust – a move that angered Israelis across the political spectrum.

The bill, passed by the lower house of the Polish parliament, specifies prison time for those who ‘defame’ Poland by using phrases such as “Polish death camps” when referring to Auschwitz and other Nazi-run death camps located in Poland during World War II.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday rejected that law as “baseless.”

Netanyahu: ‘No tolerance for distorting the truth’

“I strongly oppose it. One cannot change history and the Holocaust cannot be denied,” Netanyahu stated. He instructed the Israeli ambassador to Poland to meet with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki to express Israel’s “strong position against the law.”

On Sunday, he addressed the weekly Cabinet meeting, saying: “Here is the place to point out that we have no tolerance for distorting the truth, historical revisionism or Holocaust denial. Last night I expressed my strong opposition, and I am sure that all ministers would agree, to the law passed in the Polish parliament last Friday regarding the Holocaust that befell our people on Polish soil. The law is due to go through two more stages before it is finally adopted. I expressed our clear position that it must be changed.

“We will not accept any attempt whatsoever to rewrite history,” Netanyahu asserted. “We will accept no restriction on research into historical truth. On my instruction, our ambassador in Warsaw spoke with the Polish Prime Minister during a Holocaust memorial ceremony at Auschwitz last night and emphasized our positions. During the week, the ambassador and her staff will hold contacts on this issue with the entire Polish leadership, including the Prime Minister, the President and the Senate. The [Deputy] Polish Ambassador was summoned to the Foreign Ministry this morning and heard the same exact things.

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“Every day, and especially on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which was yesterday, we remember three things: One, our six million brothers and sisters who were exterminated in the Nazi horrors. Two, the price that all humanity paid for not taking strong and timely action against a murderous ideology. And third, the constant need to continue building the strength of the State of Israel against the fanatical regimes of our time,” he said.

Fake history

President Reuven Rivlin slammed that law as an attempt at “fake history.”

Quoting former Polish President Aleksander Kwaśniewski’s words to the Knesset, Rivlin stated that “one cannot fake history, one cannot rewrite it, one cannot hide the truth. Every crime, every offence must be condemned, denounced, must be examined and exposed.”

“Only 73 years have passed since the gates of hell were flung open. Living Holocaust survivors are disappearing from the world and we still have to fight for the memory of the Holocaust as it was,” Rivlin stated.

“The Jewish people, the State of Israel, and the entire world must ensure that the Holocaust is recognized for its horrors and atrocities,” he added.

“Every crime, every offense, must be condemned. They must be examined and revealed,” Rivlin demanded, while acknowledging that “there were also others among them who fought and were recognized as Righteous Among the Nations.”

“On International Holocaust Remembrance Day, more than ever, and above all considerations, we are faced with our duty to remember our brothers and sisters who were murdered,” the president concluded, relating to the event which was marked on Saturday around the globe.

‘A serious distortion’

Yad Vashem, the Jerusalem-based World Holocaust Remembrance Center, also expressed opposition to the new legislation, saying it is “liable to blur the historical truths regarding the assistance the Germans received from the Polish population during the Holocaust.”

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Yad Vashem said that “there is no doubt that the term ‘Polish death camps’ is a historical misrepresentation! The extermination camps were set up in Nazi-occupied Poland in order to murder the Jewish people within the framework of the ‘Final Solution.'”

However, “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,” Israel’s official Holocaust memorial stated.

“Yad Vashem will continue to support research aimed at exposing the complex truth regarding the attitude of the Polish population towards the Jews during the Holocaust,” the organization vowed.

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.”

‘Don’t need Holocaust education’ from Poland

Member of Knesset (MK) Yair Lapid got into a twitter battle with the Polish embassy in Israel after he posted his strong condemnation of the bill, which he charged “tries to deny Polish complicity in the Holocaust.”

“It [Holocaust] was conceived in Germany but hundreds of thousands of Jews were murdered without ever meeting a German soldier. There were Polish death camps and no law can ever change that,” Lapid wrote.

The Polish embassy defended the bill, claiming that its objective “is not to ‘whitewash’ the past, but to protect the truth against such slander.”

“Your unsupportable claims show how badly Holocaust education is needed, even here in Israel,” the embassy added.

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Lapid replied that he is “a son of a Holocaust survivor. My grandmother was murdered in Poland by Germans and Poles. I don’t need Holocaust education from you. We live with the consequences every day in our collective memory. Your embassy should offer an immediate apology.”

“How does that relate to the fact that WW2 death camps were German Nazi, not Polish (our thread)? Shameless,” the Polish embassy retorted.

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon commented on the feud, saying that the Polish embassy’s decision to “preach morality to us about Holocaust remembrance” is both “amazing and saddening.”

‘Step back to the dark ages of anti-Semitism’

Israeli Minister of Education Naftali Bennett on Sunday issued a directive ordering all schools to allocate two hours of study in the coming week dedicated to educating on the compliance of European nations with Nazi Germany, including the Poles.

“It is an historic fact that many Poles helped the murder of Jews, informed on, turned in and themselves murdered many Jews during the Holocaust and after it,” Bennett stated.

Princeton University Professor Jan Tomasz Gross, an expert on Polish compliance with the Holocaust, has previously stated that Poland’s new stance on dissociating itself from the Holocaust is “a step back to the dark ages of anti-Semitism.”

The Polish-born sociologist and historian has stoked controversy in Poland with works that expose dark chapters in a wartime history that Poles are otherwise proud of thanks to a strong resistance by Poles to Nazi Germany.

The latest uproar surrounding him came after Gross asserted in 2015 that Poles killed more Jews than Germans during the war. Though the exact numbers are difficult to measure, Gross said evidence indicates that Poles killed up to 30,000 Germans during the war, at most, while they probably killed 70,000 to 90,000 Jews, but possibly more.