Poland Cancels Israeli Minister’s Visit for Saying 'Poles Murdered Jews During Holocaust'

Report: Polish deputy PM ordered meeting canceled after Education Minister said 'the Polish people had a proven role in the murder of Jews during the Holocaust'

Poland cancelled a visit to the country by Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who had said he will take off for Poland on Wednesday to meet with Polish officials, Poland clarified on Monday that no such visit was scheduled. Bennet confirmed on Monday evening that his visit had been cancelled, despite his claims earlier in the day that the visit would take place.

The visit, which was not coordinated with the Foreign Ministry, comes amid a diplomatic crisis between the two countries over the Polish legislation that would criminalize accusing the Polish people of complicity with Nazi crimes.

Polish media said that Jarosaw Gowin, the deputy prime minister, ordered the meeting with Bennett canceled. According to the report, the reason for the cancelation was Bennett's statement to Israeli media in which he stated" "My message is clear: the past cannot be rewritten – the Polish people had a proven role in the murder of Jewish during the Holocaust."

Bennet acknowledged in a statement Monday evening: "The Polish government cancelled my visit to Poland because I mentioned the crimes of its people. It was my honor [to do so]."

"Now the next generation has an important lesson to learn on the Holocaust of our people, and I will make sure that they learn it. This decision of the Polish government will have a large role in handing down the lessons of the Holocaust, even if they intended on achieving a something else," said Bennett.  

"True, the extermination camps in Poland were built and operated by the Germans, and we must not allow them to avoid this responsibility. But many Poles all over their country informed, handed over or participated themselves in the murder of some 200,000 Jews during the Holocaust and even afterward," said Bennett.

"Only a few thousand 'Righteous Among the Nations' risked their lives to save them. That's the truth. I agreed to a dialogue based on the truth. The Polish government chose to avoid the truth. No legislation will change the past," said Benett.

"As the education minister of the Jewish state I will stand up straight because I am unable to forego the honor of those murdered," he added. 

Bennett had said that during his purported visit he will meet with Prime Minister of Poland Mateusz Morawieck and other ministers, and discuss the bill, said the earlier statement from Bennett.

Haaretz has learned that the visit was not coordinated with the Foreign Ministry, even though it would take place in the midst of a diplomatic crisis. The Foreign Ministry did not respond to Haaretz's questions.

If the meetings in Poland had taken place, it would have been the first meetings between an Israeli government official and Polish officials since the legislation caused a furor in Israel.

The bill was passed by the Senate last week, and has been sent to Polish President Andrzej Duda for a final signature. 

In Poland, Bennett was to meet with Polish students, Holocaust survivors and Righteous Among the Nations living in Poland, the statement said.

"I believe that the dispute with the Polish government should be resolved through dialogue," Bennett said in his earlier statement. "So I will meet with young students in Poland and with the leadership of the state. The message is clear: the past cannot be rewritten. We will write the future together."

The Polish media reported that Jonny Daniels, a private businessman who heads the "From the Depths" nonprofit organization, is the person who invited Bennett to visit Poland. Daniels is a British-born Jew in the public relations business who divides his time between Israel and Poland. In recent years he has become close to the governing elite in Poland and depicts himself as one of the outstanding voices in the Polish-Jewish conversation today – but he has also acquired enemies in the Jewish community.  

Daniels confirmed in the Polish media that he had invited Bennett, saying the visit is being "postponed."

Daniels is behind a number of visits to Poland in recent years by Israeli politicians, including Communications Minister Ayoub Kara and Knesset member Hilik Bar (Zionist Union) – a visit that was harshly criticized in Poland and in Israel because it included participation in a ceremony honoring Poles who saved Jews during the Holocaust period, which was organized by a priest who had until recently been a symbol of anti-Semitism in Poland. Daniels also was behind a visit by a delegation of Knesset members to Auschwitz in 2014.  

According to the From the Depths website, its goal is to preserve the memory of the Holocaust and bridge the past to the future. A significant part of these efforts is documenting Poles who saved Jews during the Holocaust and honoring their families.

Daniels does not coordinate his project with the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial center in Jerusalem. He says an injustice has been done to Poles who risked their lives to save Jews; people who waited decades until anyone discovered them.