Dozens of Holocaust survivors entered the Polish embassy compound in Tel Aviv on Thursday, waving flags and signs protesting the country’s bill making it a criminal offense to blame the Polish nation or state for the crimes of the Holocaust.
The demonstrators, who also included younger Israelis, entered the embassy compound. They briefly rallied outside the embassy building, with security guards trying to prevent them from entering, and also surrounded a diplomat’s car.
The protesters held up signs in Hebrew and Polish with such slogans as “No law will erase history” and “The Polish law spits in the Israeli people’s face.” One elderly woman held a sign saying “I still have nightmares because of what the Poles did.”
The protesters shouted “Nobody will forget what you did” at the diplomat inside the car, Ynet reported.
The rally was organized by the Yad Ezer La-Haver foundation, which runs a home for Holocaust survivors in Haifa. “We are here to voice our protest, and we promise it won’t be quiet,” said the foundation’s CEO Shimon Sabag.
The demonstrators plan to erect a protest tent outside the embassy.
Some Holocaust survivors, many of whom are over the age of 90, used the demonstration to tell chilling stories about Poles mistreating them during World War II.
“Every Passover there were pogroms against us, so the Poles were anti-Semitic and received orders from the Polish church,” said 80-year-old Shaul Gorka, according to Ynet. “This law is absolutely terrible.”
“I only know one family in the whole village who helped me. All the rest didn’t care,” said 80-year-old Esti Lieber.
Holocaust survivor Shalom Shtamberg, 93, said much of his suffering had been caused by Poles. He said that after the Warsaw Ghetto was opened, “the SS and the Gestapo killed us and took us for hard work,” he said.
After escaping the ghetto as a 14-year-old and eventually being sent to the Auschwitz death camp, “there were so many Poles there too who beat us and caused us trouble,” Shtamberg added in tears.
Judith Rosenzweig, 88, said that in the camps, “the Poles around us saw what was happening because we were walking in lines, under rifles belonging to German and Polish soldiers. If one of us would exit the line, they would kill him.”
“The Poles just stood idly, didn’t do anything, just looked at the lines,” Rosenzweig continued. “We were without clothes on, or in torn clothes in freezing October — and we marched like that and they looked at us. Nobody objected and nobody helped.”
The Polish bill, which was signed into law Tuesday by President Andrzej Duda but has yet to receive final approval from the country’s Constitutional Court, has sparked a diplomatic crisis with Israel.
The legislation, proposed by Poland’s conservative ruling party, has angered Jerusalem, which says it will inhibit free speech about the Holocaust. The United States also strongly opposes the legislation, saying it could hurt Poland’s strategic relations with Israel and the US.
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.”