WARSAW, Poland — A Polish nationalist group has asked prosecutors to investigate whether Israeli President Reuven Rivlin broke a new Holocaust speech law during a visit to Poland last week.
The National Movement says it believes the Israeli leader might have violated legislation that criminalizes blaming the Polish nation or state for the crimes of Nazi Germany during World War II.
The group’s vice president, Krzysztof Bosak, said it formally filed its request to prosecutors on Tuesday.
He said the matter concerns Rivlin telling his Polish counterpart during commemorations at Auschwitz last Thursday that Poland enabled the implementation of Germany’s genocide.
Rivlin told Polish president Andrjez Duda last week that while some Poles helped rescue Jews during the Holocaust, others took part in their extermination, and that Poland as country played a role.
“There is no doubt that there were many Poles who fought the Nazi regime, but we cannot deny that Poland and Poles had a hand in the extermination,” Rivlin said in Krakow.
“The country of Poland allowed the implementation of the horrific genocidal ideology of Hitler, and witnessed the wave of anti-Semitism sparked by the law you passed now,” the president added, challenging the recently passed legislation.
Passed in February, the Polish law calls for prison terms of up to three years for attributing the crimes of Nazi Germany to the Polish state or nation. The law also sets fines or a maximum three-year jail term for anyone who refers to Nazi German death camps as Polish.
Bosak acknowledged his group was testing the law, which is not being enforced in practice after sparking a dispute with Israel.
The Israeli president noted that Israel honors those Poles who gave their own lives to save Jews, but pointed out the widespread anti-Semitism that existed in Holocaust-era Poland and the fact that many Poles also participated in the extermination.
“People murdered and then inherited [the property of the dead]. Here was the foundation” of anti-Semitic feeling “that allowed the Nazis to do as they wished, not only in Poland but throughout Europe,” Rivlin said.
“This land was a forge of the Jewish nation’s soul, and to our deep sorrow, also its largest Jewish graveyard. You can’t erase such a rich, full, painful history,” Rivlin told Duda.
“Policymakers have a duty to shape the future. Historians have a duty to describe the past and investigate history. One must not overstep into the field of the other.”
Addressing the recent controversy over the Holocaust legislation, Duda admitted “there is great disagreement” on the matter but reiterated that “at no point did we want to block testimony [on the Holocaust]; on the contrary we wanted to defend the historical truths, and as a leader, I want to do this at any price, even when it is difficult for us.”
One key paragraph of the new law 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.”
The legislation, which was introduced by Poland’s conservative ruling party, has sparked a bitter dispute with Israel, which says it will inhibit free speech about the Holocaust. The United States also strongly opposes the legislation, warning it could hurt Poland’s strategic relations with Israel and the US.
Jewish groups, Holocaust survivors, and Israeli officials fear its true aim is to repress research on Poles who killed Jews during World War II. The law and subsequent backlash have unleashed a wave of anti-Semitism in Poland.
Earlier this month, senior Israeli and Polish diplomats met in Jerusalem in a bid to resolve differences, with both sides vowing to preserve “the truth.”
But last month, Poland demanded that the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem remove a reference to “Polish police” guarding the Lodz ghetto.