Yad Vashem on Thursday criticized the Polish Senate’s approval of a contentious Polish Holocaust bill that would outlaw blaming the Polish state or nation for crimes of the Holocaust committed in Poland and vowed to continue supporting research into the “Polish population’s attitudes toward Jews during the Holocaust.”
“The decision to approve the problematic law, which could cause a distortion of historical truth, is very regrettable,” the World Holocaust Remembrance Center said in a statement.
“There is no doubt that the expression ‘Polish death camps’ is a mistake,” it noted. “But the law refers to other elements that put at risk free and honest debate about the Poles’ part in the persecution of the Jews during that time.”
“Yad Vashem will continue supporting research seeking to reveal the complex truth regarding the Polish population’s attitudes toward Jews during the Holocaust, and will contribute to educational and other activities in that spirit,” the Jerusalem-based center added.
The Polish Senate late Wednesday passed the bill despite assurances from the country’s prime minister that Israeli concerns would be addressed before steps were taken to write it into law.
On Saturday, a day after the lower house of Poland’s parliament approved the law, Yad Vashem released a statement expressing a similar sentiment.
“There is no doubt that the term ‘Polish death camps’ is a historical misrepresentation! The extermination camps were set up in Nazi-occupied Poland in order to murder the Jewish people within the framework of the ‘Final Solution,’” it said.
“However, restrictions on statements by scholars and others regarding the Polish people’s direct or indirect complicity with the crimes committed on their land during the Holocaust are a serious distortion,” it added.
The move by the Polish Senate drew condemnation in Israel from across the political spectrum on Thursday.
Transportation Minister Israel Katz called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to immediately recall Israel’s ambassador from Poland for consultations.
“The law passed by the Poles is a grave development, as it removes the blame and denies Poland’s part in the Holocaust of the Jews,” Katz said in a statement.
“Balancing diplomatic considerations against moral considerations should yield a clear choice — immortalizing the memory of Holocaust victims prevails over any other consideration,” he said.
“We will not let the Polish Senate’s decision pass without reaction. Polish anti-Semitism fueled the Holocaust,” Construction and Housing Minister Yoav Galant told Army Radio.
Former foreign minister and Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni told the radio station that “they have spat in Israel’s face twice, firstly as the state of the Jewish people that is trying to prevent a second Holocaust, and secondly in the face of an Israeli prime minister who had reached an agreement with his Polish counterpart, and had it ignored.”
MK Yair Lapid, who heads the Yesh Atid party, wrote on Twitter that “no Polish law can change history. We’ll never forget.”
The Polish senate has given the country “the dubious honor of being the first state to institutionalize Holocaust denial in the law-book,” said lawmaker Itzik Shmuli from the opposition Zionist Union.
Shmuli has proposed two pieces of legislation to counter the Polish bill. The first will provide legal defense to anyone prosecuted under the new polish law.
The second, proposed on Wednesday, expands Israel’s existing Holocaust denial laws to include a five-year jail sentence for anyone who denies or minimizes the role played by Nazi collaborators, including Poles, in crimes committed in the Holocaust.
The new Israeli bill was co-authored by lawmakers from several parties, including at least two opposition parties. It has been signed by over 61 of Israel’s 120 lawmakers, representing a majority in the Knesset.
Poland’s conservative ruling Law and Justice party authored the bill, which mandates up to three years of prison for any intentional attempt to attribute the crimes of Nazi Germany to the Polish state or people.
A key paragraph of the bill states: “Whoever accuses, publicly and against the facts, the Polish nation, or the Polish state, of being responsible or complicit in the Nazi crimes committed by the Third German Reich… or other crimes against peace and humanity, or war crimes, or otherwise grossly diminishes the actual perpetrators thereof, shall be subject to a fine or a penalty of imprisonment of up to three years.”
Law and Justice says it is fighting against phrases like “Polish death camps” to refer to death camps operated by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland during World War II. Poles believe that they are being defamed by being linked to German crimes of which they were one of the largest group of victims.
Israel, however, sees the move, with its wide-ranging provisions, as an attempt to cover up the role some Poles played in the killing of Jews during World War II.