Ukraine leader slams ‘unacceptable’ Polish Holocaust bill

Ukraine leader slams ‘unacceptable’ Polish Holocaust bill

President Petro Poroshenko protests controversial Holocaust bill for criminalizing denial of war crimes committed by Ukrainian nationalists during World War II

Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko gives a joint press statement with the German Chancellor (not in picture) prior to their talks at the Chancellery in Berlin on January 30, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / Odd ANDERSEN)
Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko gives a joint press statement with the German Chancellor (not in picture) prior to their talks at the Chancellery in Berlin on January 30, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / Odd ANDERSEN)

KIEV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s leader said Thursday he was “deeply concerned” by Poland’s adoption of a controversial Holocaust bill which was designed to defend the country’s history, but has instead sparked an uproar.

The Polish legislation stirred outrage in Israel as it sets penalties for anyone who refers to Nazi German death camps as Polish, or accuses Poland of complicity in the Third Reich’s crimes. It has has been pilloried by the Jerusalem government as a form of historical distortion.

But a different passage of the bill allows for the prosecution of anyone who denies war crimes committed by Ukrainian nationalists, in a move which has sparked an outcry in Kiev.

“I am deeply concerned by the decision of the Polish parliament,” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko wrote on Facebook.

“Historical truth calls for a frank conversation and dialogue and not prohibitions. The assessments which this decision contains are totally biased and completely unacceptable.”

Poroshenko said the legislation violated principles of “strategic partnership” between the two countries, saying Ukraine remembered “common victories and the fight against totalitarian regimes.”

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

Some historians say Ukraine’s UPA nationalists committed atrocities during World War II, notably against Poles in Ukraine.

In Poland, however, UPA fighters were seen as death squads who were responsible for the ethnic cleansing of Poles from what is now western Ukraine.

In 2015, Ukraine’s parliament gave unprecedented recognition to those who served in the UPA, recognizing them as “Ukrainian independence fighters.”

Ties strained

Earlier on Thursday Poland’s senate approved the bill, after the lower house of parliament passed the measure last week.

The bill, which must still be signed by Polish President Andrzej Duda before it becomes law, allows the prosecution of anyone who denies crimes committed in 1925-1950 by Ukrainian nationalists, including those who collaborated with Nazi Germans.

Volodymyr Vyatrovych, head of the Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance, denounced the Polish bill as a “political diktat.”

“I am convinced that the law will harm Ukrainian-Polish relations,” the historian said in televised remarks.

Ukraine and its EU neighbor Poland have close ties.

Warsaw supported Kiev after a 2014 popular uprising in Ukraine ousted a Kremlin-backed president, leading to Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and the outbreak of a Russian-backed insurgency in the east of the ex-Soviet country.

But over the past months ties have suffered over a number of hugely sensitive issues.

Poland’s right wing-dominated parliament in 2016 stirred Ukrainian anger by recognizing as a “genocide” the massacre of some 100,000 Poles by Ukrainian nationalists during World War II.

Warsaw for its part has denounced Ukraine for banning the exhumation of Polish victims of wartime massacres by Ukrainian nationalists.

Duda has promised to review the legislation.

German General Walter Model, Commander in Chief of German troops in Poland, on a visit to his troops on the Polish Front, examining a machine gun on August 21, 1944. (AP Photo)

Hours after the bill was passed Israel’s Foreign Ministry issued a condemnation of the legislation, tweeting, “The State of Israel opposes categorically the Polish Senate decision. Israel views with utmost gravity any attempt to challenge historical truth. No law will change the facts.”

Poles were among those imprisoned, tortured, and killed in the camps, and many today feel that 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.

There were many cases of Poles killing Jews or denouncing them to the Germans, however, with deadly anti-Semitic pogroms continuing during and in one case even after World War II.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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