Lapid: Poland was complicit in the Holocaust, new bill ‘can’t change history’
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Furious row erupts between Lapid and Polish embassy

Lapid: Poland was complicit in the Holocaust, new bill ‘can’t change history’

Yesh Atid leader, son of survivor, condemns law prescribing jail time for using phrases such as 'Polish death camps'; Poland played active role in WWII killing of Jews, he stresses

MK Yair Lapid leads a Yesh Atid faction meeting at the Knesset, January 8, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
MK Yair Lapid leads a Yesh Atid faction meeting at the Knesset, January 8, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid on Saturday slammed a controversial bill passed by the lower house of the Polish parliament which aims to penalize individuals or organizations who point to the European country’s involvement in facilitating atrocities during the Holocaust.

The Israeli member of Knesset, the son of a Holocaust survivor,  characterized the bill — which is expected to become law in Poland shortly — 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 in a tweet in Hebrew 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.”

He also tweeted in English.

The new bill prescribes criminal proceedings for individuals or organizations who allegedly defame the “Polish nation” by assigning guilt or complicity to Poles for crimes committed by the Nazis on Polish soil. Phrases such as “Polish death camps” to refer to the killing sites Nazi Germany operated in occupied Poland during World War II may be punishable by three years in prison or a fine, according to the law. The bill is a response to cases in recent years of foreign media using “Polish death camps” to describe Auschwitz and other Nazi-run camps.

The bill, passed Friday, follows cases in recent years of foreign media using “Polish death camps” to describe Auschwitz and other Nazi-run camps.

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.”

Some major news organizations have banned language referring to Polish death camps.

Former US President Barack Obama used it in 2012, prompting outrage in Poland. Obama made the comment while awarding the Medal of Freedom to Jan Karski, a resistance fighter against the Nazi occupation of Poland during World War II. Karski died in 2000.

During an East Room ceremony honoring 13 Medal of Freedom recipients, Obama said that Karski “served as a courier for the Polish resistance during the darkest days of World War II. Before one trip across enemy lines, resistance fighters told him that Jews were being murdered on a massive scale and smuggled him into the Warsaw Ghetto and a Polish death camp to see for himself. Jan took that information to President Franklin Roosevelt, giving one of the first accounts of the Holocaust and imploring to the world to take action.”

After complaints, the White House said Obama misspoke.

The main gate of the former Auschwitz extermination camp in Oswiecim, Poland, with the infamous sign reading ‘Work sets you free.’ (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images/via JTA)

The legislation calls for prison sentences of up to three years. It still needs approval from Poland’s Senate and president.

Critics say enforcing such a law would be impossible outside Poland, and that within the country it would have a chilling effect on debating history, harming freedom of expression.

While the law contains a provision excluding scholarly or academic works, opponents still see a danger.

They especially worry it could be used to stifle research and debate on topics that are anathema to Poland’s nationalistic authorities, particularly the painful issue of Poles who blackmailed Jews or denounced them to the Nazis during the war.

Dorota Glowacka, a legal adviser with the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights in Warsaw, said the broad scope of the bill opens up the potential for abuse.

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