PM: We expect countries to be truthful about the Holocaust, including Poland

Warsaw sends only cultural attaché to Foreign Ministry event honoring foreign diplomats who saved Jews during WWII

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Nina Admoni, who was saved by Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara, inspect a memorial to foreign diplomats who saved Jews during World War II at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on February 5, 2018 (HaimTzach / GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Nina Admoni, who was saved by Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara, inspect a memorial to foreign diplomats who saved Jews during World War II at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on February 5, 2018 (HaimTzach / GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday stressed the importance of accurately portraying the Nazi genocide of the Jewish people during World War II, subtly admonishing Warsaw for advancing a law that would criminalize accusing the Polish nation of complicity in Nazi crimes.

“The truth about the Holocaust must always be studied, it must always be remembered,” he told foreign diplomats at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem. “Israel works closely with our partners around the world to defend and to reveal the truth about the Holocaust. We expect to do that with every country, including Poland.”

Future generations must internalize the lesson of the Holocaust, Netanyahu said. “I think the most important lesson for all humanity is that hatred, extreme ideologies — these must always be confronted early, when there is time to nip them in the bud.”

“We Jews have learned to believe our enemies when they call for our annihilation. We learned that we must be able to defend ourselves by ourselves against any potential threat. The State of Israel not only has internalized these lessons, we practice it,” he said in apparent reference to Israel’s current arch-foe Iran, which sponsors terror groups and has repeatedly called for Israel’s destruction .

Israel extends its hand in peace to all its neighbors, he added. “But we are forever conscious of the danger to us, and to the rest of mankind, of those who want to exterminate us. Ultimately, they exterminate the world we all want to keep and cherish.”

Netanyahu was speaking at ceremony honoring foreign diplomats who saved Jews during World War II.

“In my people’s darkest hour, a few noble men and women bucked their superiors to save Jewish lives. Israel salutes them. We shall forever honor their memory,” he said.

The Polish parliament last week passed a pill that would send to prison anyone who “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 still.” It still needs to be confirmed by Poland’s President Andrzej Duda before it becomes law.

Israel strenuously protested the bill, with Netanyahu asserting that “we have no tolerance for distorting the truth, historical revisionism or Holocaust denial.”

He summoned the Polish deputy ambassador to the Foreign Ministry, instructed Israel’s envoy to Warsaw to urgently discuss the matter with Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, and also spoke to him himself in an effort to delay the bill’s passing.

“We will not accept any attempt whatsoever to rewrite history,” Netanyahu declared on January 28.

Under the headline “Beyond Duty,” the Foreign Ministry on Monday honored 36 diplomats from 21 countries who were recognized by Yad Vashem as righteous among the nations for having risked their lives during to save Jews.

Relatives of those saved and ambassadors from many countries — including Germany, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Australia, South Africa, Great Britain, Sweden and the Netherlands — attended the event, at which a large memorial plaque in honor of the righteous diplomats was revealed.

Even though the Polish ambassador was invited, the embassy only sent the cultural attaché to Monday’s event. Poland has the highest number of righteous gentiles of all countries in the world, but no diplomats are among them. Poland was occupied during the war and did not exist as an independent state at the time.

The memorial wall at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, carrying the names of the 36 diplomats who rescued Jews during the Holocaust (courtesy)

“They risked everything for our common humanity and for that, we and history will justly remember them as heroes,” Netanyahu said about the righteous diplomats. He mentioned some of them by name, including Sweden’s Raoul Wallenberg, who saved thousands of Jews during his service in Budapest.

Wallenberg was “almost like Moses in Egypt,” Netanyahu said, recalling how he placed Swedish flags over houses where Jews lived.

“My family was lucky, it heeded the call of Zionism and left Lithuania in 1920. But it was among the lucky few,” Netanyahu said. “The great majority stayed and six million of our brothers and sisters were slaughtered in the worst atrocity in history.”

The 36 diplomats who protected Jews “deserve to be household names,” Netanyahu said. “It’s a matter of justice but also a matter of educating future generations.”

Said Netanyahu: “These are the kinds of people we ask our young diplomats to emulate, men and women of boundless courage, men and women of the deepest moral character. By the way, many of them were castigated by their foreign ministries and for many of them their careers came to a swift end. But they risked everything to establish the truth. It wasn’t easy to do that because the truth was hidden by iron curtains of lies and deception. The truth is not always easy to establish today, either, by different means.”

Stockholm’s ambassador to Israel, Magnus Hellgren, address the gathering on behalf of his colleagues, since Sweden has the largest number of righteous diplomats.

“Wallenberg did not do what he did to become a hero. He did it because it had to be done,” he said.

Nina Admoni, the Warsaw-born wife of former Mossad chief Nahum Admoni, recalled how she and her family were saved by Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara.

Japanese diplomat Sugihara Chiune, who helped save the lives of thousands of Jews as the Imperial Consul to Lithuania in World War II. (Public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Together with the memorial, which was designed by Israeli artist Zehava Benjamin, the Foreign Ministry also created an exhibition, called “Beyond Duty,” that is currently on display in foreign ministries and Israeli embassies across the globe.

“In a time of supreme moral testing and in the darkest hours of the Jewish people, these people acted by the dictate of their conscience in order to save Jews, without regard for personal and professional consequence,” Ran Yaakoby, who spearheaded the project, told The Times of Israel in a recent interview

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Israel is eternally grateful and will forever salute their courage and moral example,” said Yaakoby, the director of the ministry’s Department for Combating Anti-Semitism and Holocaust Remembrance.

“I would like our diplomats to know the stories of those international diplomats who saved others in need, not because they had to, but because their morals did not allow them otherwise, and to follow suit. Regulations do not supply all moral answers to all moral dilemmas, and this is what a representative of a nation – definitely the Jewish nation – should learn from it.”

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