Auschwitz museum slams Lapid ‘lie’ after he claims Poles helped run death camps

Israeli politician says Poles ‘cooperated in creating and running extermination camps’; memorial site says comment ‘hurts like a clash with Holocaust denial’

Blue and White co-chairman Yair Lapid at the opening session of the new Knesset on April 30, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Blue and White co-chairman Yair Lapid at the opening session of the new Knesset on April 30, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

The Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum in Poland on Thursday night criticized the Israeli Blue and White party’s Yair Lapid for a claim he made on Polish cooperation with the Holocaust, likening his allegation to the claims made by Holocaust denyers.

Lapid said in an interview with Polish website onet released Thursday that “Poles cooperated in creating and running extermination camps. Poles handed over Jews to the Germans and thus sent them to death.”

Quoting the first part of Lapid’s statement, the Auschwitz memorial on Twitter said that such a claim by “a known Israeli politician hurts like a clash with Holocaust denial.

“Both are a conscious lie,” it said. “Using Holocaust as political game mocks the victims.”

Lapid had added in the interview: “There were many Polish Righteous Among the Nations who saved Jews and we are grateful to them for all time. But can you pretend that there were no Polish helpers in the extermination camps? Of course they were!

“It is no coincidence that the Nazis created their center of extermination in Poland. They knew that the Polish population would help them.”

He warned that anti-Semitism would not be overcome in Poland “if the government helps to hide the past, instead of learning from it.”

Lapid has been highly critical of the Polish government ever since it engaged in legislation seen as seeking to divorce itself from any state responsibility for the Holocaust.

Last June, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Polish counterpart Mateusz Morawiecki ended a diplomatic standoff over a Polish law that made it a criminal offense to accuse the Polish nation of complicity in the extermination of Jews during World War II. As part of the understandings, Poland agreed to amend the law to remove any criminal penalties.

Prime Minister of Poland Mateusz Morawiecki, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a conference on Peace and Security in the Middle East in Warsaw, Poland, February 14, 2019. (AP/Michael Sohn)

But the two leaders’ joint statement on the matter was criticized in Israel for appearing to accept Poland’s official position that it was not in any way responsible for the crimes of the Holocaust.

Lapid called the amendment to the law a “bad joke.”

Lapid, the son of a Holocaust survivor, has been one of the most outspoken Israeli critics of the law, which he labelled an attempt to rewrite history.

He’s said in the past that “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.”

Poland’s 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.”

To which Lapid retorted with outrage and a demand for 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.”

Last year President Reuven Rivlin told his Polish counterpart, Andrjez Duda, that while “There is no doubt that there were many Poles who fought the Nazi regime… we cannot deny that Poland and Poles had a hand in the extermination.”

The railway track leading to the infamous ‘Death Gate’ at the Auschwitz II Birkenau extermination camp on November 13, 2014 in Oswiecim, Poland. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images/via JTA)

The Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem has said “decades of historical research reveals… Poles’ assistance to Jews during the Holocaust was relatively rare, and attacks against and even the murder of Jews were widespread phenomena.” It did however say the term “Polish death camps,” which has particularly rankled Poles, was a “historical misrepresentation.”

In an interview with the Times of Israel earlier this year Poland’s ambassador to Israel acknowledged that some Poles “committed abominable crimes” against Jews but strongly rejected the notion of “Polish complicity” in the Holocaust as overly broad.

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