Anti-Semitic rhetoric spills into Polish politics amid tussle over law
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Anti-Semitic rhetoric spills into Polish politics amid tussle over law

Many of Poland’s conservative lawmakers are accusing Jews and Israelis of using Holocaust bill as pretext for reparations

Far-right groups hold a demonstration in front of the presidential palace to call on President Andrzej Duda to sign the bill that limits some forms of Holocaust speech in Warsaw, Poland, February 5, 2018. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
Far-right groups hold a demonstration in front of the presidential palace to call on President Andrzej Duda to sign the bill that limits some forms of Holocaust speech in Warsaw, Poland, February 5, 2018. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

Israeli opposition to a law prohibiting blaming the Polish nation for Holocaust crimes has continued to spark anti-Semitic statements from officials and others in Poland, with some accusing Jews of speaking out against the bill for monetary gain.

The controversial legislation was signed into law Tuesday, Polish President Andrej Duda, his office said, a day after a small group of far-right advocates demonstrated in front of the presidential palace demanding that he okay the bill. The demonstrators held a banner reading “Take off your yarmulke. Sign the bill.”

Beata Mazurek, the spokeswoman for the conservative Law and Justice and a deputy parliament speaker, this week tweeted a quote by a Catholic priest who had said that the Israeli ambassador’s criticism of the bill “made it hard for me to look at Jews with sympathy and kindness.”

Many of Poland’s conservative lawmakers and commentators are now accusing Israelis and American Jews of using the issue as a pretext for getting money from Poland for prewar Jewish property seized in the communist era.

Jerzy Czerwinski, a senator with the ruling party, said on state radio Monday that he saw a “hidden agenda” in the opposition.

“After all, we know that Jewish circles, including American, but mostly the state of Israel, are trying to get restitution of property or at least compensation,” he said.

Poland’s President Andrzej Duda gives a press conference on February 6, 2018 in Warsaw to announces that he will sign into law a controversial Holocaust bill which has sparked tensions with Israel, the US, and Ukraine. (AFP PHOTO / JANEK SKARZYNSKI)

Jan Grabowski, a historian at the University of Ottawa in Canada who studies Polish violence against Jews during the war, called Duda’s signing of the law “further proof that the nationalists now in power in Poland will do anything to cater to the hard, right-wing core of their electorate.”

As currently written, the legislation calls for prison terms of up to three years for attributing the crimes of Nazi Germany to the Polish state or nation. The bill would also set fines or a maximum three-year jail term for anyone who refers to Nazi German death camps as Polish.

One key paragraph of the bill states, “Whoever claims, publicly and contrary to the facts, that the Polish Nation or the Republic of Poland is responsible or co-responsible for Nazi crimes committed by the Third Reich… or for other felonies that constitute crimes against peace, crimes against humanity or war crimes, or whoever otherwise grossly diminishes the responsibility of the true perpetrators of said crimes – shall be liable to a fine or imprisonment for up to three years.”

Israel has expressed deep concerns that the legislation could open the door to prosecuting Holocaust survivors for their testimony, should it concern the involvement of individual Poles for allegedly killing or giving up Jews to the Germans.

But Duda and other Polish leaders insist the law does not limit freedom of speech on Holocaust issues that are based in historical fact.

“I have decided to sign the law but also to send it to the Constitutional Tribunal,” Duda told reporters in Warsaw on Tuesday.

He said the decision “preserves the interests of Poland, our dignity, and the historical truth” and also “takes into account the sensitivity of those for whom the question of historical memory of the Holocaust remains exceptionally important, especially those who have survived and who, as long as they can, should tell the world about this past and their experience.”

Last week, Israel’s embassy in Warsaw denounced what it said was a “wave of anti-Semitic statements” sweeping across Poland, many of them directed at the Israeli ambassador, Anna Azari.

Liberation of children from Auschwitz-Birkenau, with adult female relief workers who were pixelated in Mishpacha magazine, January 24, 2018 issue. (HistClo.com)

In one instance last week, the head of a state-run channel suggested referring to Auschwitz as a “Jewish death camp,” in response to an outcry over use of the term “Polish death camp” to describe the Nazi killing site in German-occupied Poland.

“Who managed the crematoria there?” The director of television station TVP 2, Marcin Wolski, said on air — a reference to the fact that death camp prisoners, usually Jews, were forced to help dispose of gas chamber victims.

Wolski was joined on his show by a right-wing commentator, Rafal Ziemkiewicz, who only a day earlier had used an extremely derogatory term to refer to Jews on Twitter. The comment was later removed. And on another talk show last month on Polish state TV, anti-Semitic messages posted by viewers on Twitter were shown at the bottom of the screen as one participant said that a Jewish guest was “not really Polish.”

The state TV director later apologized for the messages, blaming a technical glitch that caused them to go onto the screen unedited.

In another case late last month, a Polish state radio commentator, Piotr Nisztor, suggested that Poles who support the Israeli position should consider relinquishing their citizenship. “If somebody acts as a spokesman for Israeli interests, maybe they should think about giving up their Polish citizenship and accepting Israeli citizenship,” Nisztor said in a comment carried on the radio’s official Twitter account.

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