Nazi hunter group weighs travel warning for Poland over Holocaust law

Simon Wiesenthal Center says it is considering recommending Jews only travel to the country to visit ‘ancestral graves and Holocaust-era death camps’

A March of the Living delegation at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp site in Poland on May 5, 2016. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
A March of the Living delegation at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp site in Poland on May 5, 2016. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

The Simon Wiesenthal Center said Wednesday that it is considering issuing a travel advisory warning against visiting Poland, in light of a controversial new law that bans mentions of Polish state complicity in the Holocaust.

The recently adopted law has sparked a bitter conflict with Israel, where it is seen as trying to whitewash the actions of some Poles during World War II. It takes effect February 28. In reaction to criticism, it is to be reviewed by Poland’s constitutional court, which can order changes.

“A travel advisory would urge Jews to limit their travel to Poland only to visit ancestral graves and Holocaust-era death camps,” said a statement released by the NGO known for its work in bringing Nazi criminals to justice.

“We would take such action with great reluctance. We are not enemies of Poland. Our center has brought hundreds of Jewish and non-Jewish leaders on dozens of missions over the past four decades,” Rabbis Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Weisenthal Center and Abraham Cooper, it’s associate dean, said in the statement.

The law allows prison terms of up to three years for blaming the Polish nation for Holocaust crimes.

Illustrative image of students visiting the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp site in Poland, April 16, 2015. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

The bill is partly a response to cases in recent years of foreign media using the term “Polish death camps” to describe Auschwitz and other Nazi-run camps. It also makes it illegal to “deliberately reduce the responsibility of the ‘true culprits’ of these crimes,” in reference to the murder of around 100,000 Poles by units in the Ukrainian Insurgent Army during World War II.

The law marks a dramatic step by the country’s current nationalist government to target anyone who tries to undermine its official stance that Poles were only heroes during the war, not Nazi collaborators who committed heinous crimes.

“We fear for a Poland that has now seen the history of the Holocaust recast by political forces who seek to bury the ugly past that includes the murder of Jews by Poles during the Holocaust and in the immediate aftermath of WWII,” Heir and Cooper said.

“If the anti-Semitism unleashed continues unabated, Jews will face increasing threats. The SWC will be closely monitoring the situation in the coming weeks and months and will act accordingly,” the statement concluded.

In an apparent attempt to ease the criticism, Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Bartosz Cichocki said late Tuesday that no criminal charges will be brought against offenders, but Poland might demand the retraction of untrue statements. The government says the law is intended to defend Poland’s good name and fight slander.

In the event of false accusations, Poland will “react, demand clarifications, argue against them, but no means of prosecution will be implemented,” Cichocki said on TVN24.

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