Top Holocaust Historian: Netanyahu’s Deal on Poland’s Holocaust Law ‘A Betrayal' That 'Hurts the Jewish People'

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Netanyahu giving a statement about the Polish 'Holocaust law' in Tel Aviv, June 27, 2018.
Netanyahu giving a statement about the Polish 'Holocaust law' in Tel Aviv, June 27, 2018.Credit: Haim Zach / GPO
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

Yehuda Bauer, an Israel Prize-winning Holocaust historian at Yad Vashem, said the Israeli-Polish statement that followed Poland’s revisiting of its controversial “Holocaust law” was a “betrayal” that “hurt the Jewish people and the memory of the Holocaust.”

In a radio interview, the 92-year-old said the backtracking on the law and the signing of a joint statement with Poland was “a small achievement and a very big mistake, bordering on betrayal.”

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Bauer said Israel had accepted the Polish narrative and “legitimized it,” even though it was a “completely mendacious story.”

Later in the interview, Bauer repeated his stance, saying “the joint statement is betrayal, betrayal, betrayal.”

On Wednesday, following secret negotiations between Israel and Poland, Warsaw said it would abolish the law’s clauses threatening imprisonment for anyone who claimed that the Polish nation was involved in Nazi crimes.

In the joint declaration, read live on television Wednesday by both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Polish counterpart Mateusz Morawiecki, only one sentence refers to the part played by Poles in the murder of Jews: “We acknowledge and condemn every single case of cruelty against Jews perpetrated by Poles during World War II.”

File photo: Yehuda Bauer in 2006. Credit: Kobi Gideon / GPO

Later the declaration states that “some people” assisted the Nazis, doing so “regardless of their origin.” It also claims that “numerous Poles” risked their lives to save Jews.

Bauer came out harshly against these words. “This is a complete lie,” he said. “What is ‘regardless of their origin’? Were they born on the moon? It’s Poles, and not one or two.”

Regarding Poles who saved Jews, and the fact that the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial has recognized around 6,700 Righteous Among the Nations, Bauer said this number was far from “numerous.”

“Even if we assume that the real figure is 200,000, out of 21 million Poles, that’s only 1 percent,” he said. “What about the other 99 percent?” According to Bauer, the joint declaration “devalues the true Righteous Among the Nations and minimizes the value of their heroism.”

Bauer said the Poles “cheated us, twisted us around their finger and we agreed to it because to the State of Israel, economic, security and political ties are more important than a little matter like the Holocaust.”

Bauer said that by signing the declaration, Israel had betrayed Polish historians who had been persecuted by the Polish government because they “tell the truth.” He was referring to scholars such as Prof. Jan Tomasz Gross and Jan Grabowsky, who research the role of Poles’ involvement in the murder of Jews during the Holocaust.

Bauer said Poland would still use civil law to persecute Polish scholars who “tell the truth.”

“They will demand money from them, they will impoverish them, they will keep funding from them. And we are legitimizing [this] . They will say: ‘What do you want, the Israelis agreed to this, why are you making noise?’”

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