Amid growing outrage, Polish president promises to review Holocaust bill
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Amid growing outrage, Polish president promises to review Holocaust bill

Hinting at Israeli fear that Holocaust survivors could be prosecuted for testimony, Andrzej Duda says everyone has right to 'personal memories' of war crimes

Polish President Andrzej Duda speaks during the official ceremony marking the 73rd anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising at the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes in Warsaw, Poland, April 19, 2016. (AP/Czarek Sokolowski)
Polish President Andrzej Duda speaks during the official ceremony marking the 73rd anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising at the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes in Warsaw, Poland, April 19, 2016. (AP/Czarek Sokolowski)

WARSAW, Poland — The Polish president on Sunday vowed to review a new bill that would outlaw blaming the Polish nation for crimes of the Holocaust committed in the country, after the measure sparked a diplomatic row with Israel.

Poland’s right-wing-controlled parliament on Friday adopted legislation that sets fines or a maximum three-year jail term for anyone who ascribes “responsibility or co-responsibility to the Polish nation or state for crimes committed by the German Third Reich — or other crimes against humanity, peace and war crimes.”

The measure, intended to apply to both Poles and foreigners, must still pass the Senate before being signed by the president.

Poland’s President Andrzej Duda said in a statement on Sunday that he would present his “final evaluation of procedural legal provisions after the completion of parliament’s work and a careful analysis of the final shape of the act.”

This July 29, 2016, file photo shows the main gate of the former German Nazi death camp of Auschwitz, Poland. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
This file photo from July 29, 2016, shows the main gate of the former German Nazi death camp of Auschwitz, Poland. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

The bill includes an article that applies the same penalty of a fine or up to three years in jail to anyone who refers to Nazi German death camps as being Polish.

Israel’s ambassador to Poland Anna Azari told the Polish PAP news agency that Israel believes the latter article could open the door to Holocaust survivors being prosecuted for their testimony should it concern the involvement of Poles in war crimes.

Six million citizens

She said that while Israel’s government rejects the legislation, it also “understands” who built death camps like Auschwitz and that it was “not the Poles.”

Duda appeared to address the concerns expressed by Azari saying that “everyone whose personal memory or historical research speaks the truth about the crimes and shameful behavior that occurred in the past with the participation of Poles has full right to this truth.”

A top Duda aide was set to meet with Azari on Monday in Warsaw, after Israel summoned the Polish deputy ambassador to express concerns over the legislation on Sunday.

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.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and his wife, Sara, host Polish President Andrzej Duda (second from right) and his wife, Agata Kornhauser, at the president’s residence in Jerusalem on January 18, 2017. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

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.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said he expected Poland to amend proposed legislation that would outlaw the blaming of Poles for crimes committed during the Holocaust, as the Foreign Ministry summoned a Polish envoy to express its displeasure.

Netanyahu said at his weekly cabinet meeting Sunday that Israel has “no tolerance for the distortion of the truth, the rewriting of history and the denial of the Holocaust.”

In a statement Saturday, Netanyahu called the Polish bill “baseless” and said “history cannot be rewritten.”

“The Holocaust cannot be denied,” he wrote.

His statement came on the heels of a heated Twitter exchange over the bill between Yair Lapid, the chairman of the opposition Yesh Atid party, and the Polish embassy in Israel.

Lapid, the son of a Holocaust survivor, took to Twitter to slam the bill, characterizing it as an effort to rewrite history.

“I strongly condemn the new law that was passed in Poland, which attempts to deny the involvement of many Polish citizens in the Holocaust,” Lapid wrote on Saturday. “No Polish law will change history, Poland was complicit in the Holocaust. Hundreds of thousands of Jews were murdered on its soil without them having met any German officer.”

The embassy in Israel hit back at Lapid, tweeting that his “unsupportable claims show how badly Holocaust education is needed, even here in Israel.” The intent of the Polish legislation, it said, “is not to ‘whitewash’ the past, but to protect the truth against such slander.”

In response, Lapid demanded an apology: “I am 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.”

Also, Sunday Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely told Army Radio that other nations, particularity the Americanism, had also expressed their opposition to Warsaw over the bill.

Polish officials claim the law aims not to “whitewash” but rather “to safeguard” history.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki pushed back against the Israeli anger over the bill, saying that the name Auschwitz and the phrase “Arbeit macht frei,” two of the Holocaust’s most enduring symbols, were not Polish.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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