Minority groups in Poland decry anti-Semitism amid Holocaust bill row
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Minority groups in Poland decry anti-Semitism amid Holocaust bill row

Ukrainians, Tartars, Jews and others in letter to President Andrzej Duda protest ‘numerous and loud manifestations’ of anti-Jewish sentiment

Police stand behind barriers around the Israeli Embassy in Warsaw after a local governor, citing security concerns, banned traffic in the area, to prevent a planned protest by far-right groups, on January 31, 2018. (JANEK SKARZYNSKI/ AFP)
Police stand behind barriers around the Israeli Embassy in Warsaw after a local governor, citing security concerns, banned traffic in the area, to prevent a planned protest by far-right groups, on January 31, 2018. (JANEK SKARZYNSKI/ AFP)

WARSAW, Poland — Minority group representatives in Poland have written to Polish President Andrzej Duda to express concern about what they see as a rising wave of aggression based on nationality, race and religion.

The leaders of Ukrainian, Tartar, Jewish and other groups said in a letter published by the Polish Press Agency late Saturday that they especially oppose recent “numerous and loud manifestations of anti-Semitism.”

They attributed the voicing of anti-Semitic remarks to lawmakers’ passage of legislation seeking to outlaw statements blaming Poles as a nation for World War II crimes committed by Nazi Germany.

The legislation has been the subject of serious criticism and expressions of concern by Israel and Washington, as well as many Jewish organizations and international institutions, including the International Auschwitz Council.

The opposition to the bill sparked anti-Semitic comments on social media in Poland that some members of the ruling Law and Justice party have retweeted.

Senators attend an overnight session at the Polish Senate in Warsaw, on February 1, 2018. (PAP/Radek Pietruszka/AFP)

Israel’s embassy in Warsaw on Friday denounced what it said was a “wave of anti-Semitic statements” sweeping across Poland, many of them directed at the Israeli ambassador, in the midst of the diplomatic row over the bill. The Foreign Ministry said earlier last week it was increasingly worried about anti-Semitic expressions in Polish media in the wake of the Holocaust bill.

On Thursday, the Polish Senate voted in favor of the controversial law which sets fines or a maximum three-year jail term for anyone who refers to Nazi German death camps as Polish or accuses the Polish nation or state of complicity in the Third Reich’s crimes. President Duda now has three weeks to sign or veto it; he has so far indicated that he supports it.

Poles were among those imprisoned, tortured and killed in the camps, and many today feel Poles are being unfairly depicted as perpetrators of the Holocaust. Germany occupied Poland in 1939, annexing part of it to Germany and directly governing the rest. Unlike other countries occupied by Germany at the time, there was no collaborationist government in Poland. The prewar Polish government and military fled into exile, except for an underground resistance army that fought the Nazis inside the country. However, there were many cases of Poles killing Jews or denouncing them to the Germans, with deadly anti-Semitic pogroms continuing during and in one case even after World War II.

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.”

Israel has pilloried the legislation as “distortion of the truth, the rewriting of history and the denial of the Holocaust.”

“Everybody knows that many, many thousands of Poles killed or betrayed their Jewish neighbors to the Germans, causing them to be murdered,” said Efraim Zuroff, a prominent historian on the Holocaust and the Eastern Europe director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, last week. “The Polish state was not complicit in the Holocaust, but many Poles were.”

Israel, along with several international Holocaust organizations and many critics in Poland, argues that the law could have a chilling effect on debating history, harming freedom of expression and leading to a whitewashing of Poland’s wartime history.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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