Israel angered at bill that would outlaw blaming Poland for Holocaust horrors
Critics say the legislation could have a chilling effect on debating history, harming freedom of expression and opening a window to Holocaust denial
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu 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 was summoned to the foreign ministry on Sunday, the ministry said.
A foreign ministry official said 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.”
Earlier on Saturday he marked the 73 anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz on site at the former Nazi death camp in Oswiecim, southern Poland.
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.
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 the second world, 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.”