BERLIN — Germany’s foreign minister said Saturday that Germany and only Germany was responsible for the Holocaust as it sought to reassure Poland that Berlin would condemn distortions of history such as descriptions of Nazi camps in occupied Poland as “Polish concentration camps.”
A proposed new law in Poland would outlaw publicly and falsely attributing Nazi Germany’s crimes in World War II to the Polish nation. The US has joined Israel in criticizing it, saying it would impact free expression.
“This organized mass murder was carried out by our country and no one else. Individual collaborators change nothing about that,” said German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel.
“We are convinced that only carefully appraising our own history can bring reconciliation. That includes people who had to experience the intolerable suffering of the Holocaust being able to speak unrestrictedly about this suffering,” said Gabriel.
Earlier Saturday, Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawieck admitted the legislation could have been timed and presented better, but he insisted that the law is needed to protect the truth of Poland’s wartime history.
Poland and Israel in the midst of a diplomatic rift over the legislation, which, if it is enacted, would punish violators with up to three years in prison.
The United States has joined Israel in criticizing the proposed law, saying it would infringe on free expression. Israeli and Jewish groups fear it would be used to whitewash the involvement of some Poles in killing Jews during the 1939-1945 occupation.
The lower house of parliament approved the legislation on January 26, the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The Senate gave its approval on Thursday. President Andrzej Duda now has three weeks to sign or veto it; he has so far indicated that he supports it.
A 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 3 years.”
Israeli officials reacted with outrage after the Polish Senate passed the bill, with one lawmaker proposing Israeli legislation to counter it and a minister calling for the ambassador to be recalled in protest.
Transportation Minister Israel Katz called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to immediately recall Israel’s ambassador from Poland for consultations.
“The law passed by the Poles is a grave development, as it removes the blame and denies Poland’s part in the Holocaust of the Jews,” Katz said in a statement.
“Balancing diplomatic considerations against moral considerations should yield a clear choice — immortalizing the memory of Holocaust victims prevails over any other consideration,” he said.