Netanyahu on Softening of Polish Holocaust Law: We Fulfilled Our Duty to Safeguard Historical Truth

Prime minister and Polish counterpart condemn anti-Semitism and anti-Polish sentiment in joint statement

Netanyahu giving a statement about the Polish revision of the controversial Holocaust law, Tel Aviv, June 27, 2018.
Haim Zach / GPO

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Polish counterpart Matthias Morawiecki issued a joint statement on Wednesday, following Poland's decision to amend a controversial law that criminalized anybody accusing the Polish nation of complicity in Nazi crimes

Netanyahu stated that in recent months Israel had been in contact with Poland about the law and that the two countries reached an agreement on an amended version of the law. “I am pleased that they have decided to completely cancel the clauses that have caused uproar and dissatisfaction in Israel and the international community.

“Relations with Poland are important to us and are based on trust. We stood for the truth and fulfilled our duty to ensure the historical truth about the Holocaust.”

The prime minister said that Israel welcomes the decision of the Polish government to amend the provisions of the law. The main change, approved this morning in the lower house of the Polish parliament, is the removal of the criminal clause that establishes a prison sentence for those who violate the law.

Netanyahu added that Israel and Poland had established task forces to reach a compromise acceptable to both countries following Israeli criticism of the law and Polish defense of it. 

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki signs a joint declaration with Israel, Warsaw, Poland, June 27, 2018.
Alik Keplicz/AP

"We reject the actions aimed at blaming Poland or the Polish nation as a whole for the atrocities committed by the Nazis and their collaborators of different nations," read a joint statement by Netanyahu and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. "Unfortunately, the sad fact is that some people – regardless of their origin, religion or worldview – revealed their darkest side at that time." 

The statement further said: "Both governments vehemently condemn all forms of anti-Semitism and express their commitment to oppose any of its manifestations. Both governments also express their rejection of anti-Polonism and other negative national stereotypes."

The law was altered Wednesday in a speedy process that saw it being approved by both houses of parliament and signed by President Andrzej Duda within hours.

In a parliamentary speech, Morawiecki said Wednesday morning that Poland will "continue to fight for the historical truth," but not within the framework of criminal law, but by using civilian tools. 

"Those who say that Poles are responsible for the crimes of World War II deserve to be sent to prison," he said, but noted that Poland operates in an international legal space and is therefore limited in its ability to legislate and enforce such laws. According to the Morawiecki office, the government believes that the law did not achieve its goals, which was "protecting Poland’s reputation.”

What has become known in Israel as the Holocaust law is officially an amendment to the Act on the Institute of National Remembrance, which was approved by the Polish Parliament six months ago. President Duda signed the bill, but ordered it to be examined by the Constitutional Court, leading to the freezing of its implementation. It is expected that the Constitutional Court of Poland will announce its decision on the matter in the next few weeks.

The law provides for a fine or imprisonment of up to three years for "anyone who attributes to the Polish people or the Polish state, in public and contrary to the facts, responsibility or complicity of the crimes of the Nazis ... or blatantly reduces the responsibility of the real perpetrators of these crimes.”

Morawiecki said after the recent reexamination of the law that he hoped that it resulted in improved relations with Israel, which had been affected by this legislation.

Morawiecki later issued a statement, saying:  "It is obvious that the Holocaust was an unprecedented crime, committed by Nazi Germany against the Jewish nation, including all Poles of Jewish origin. Poland has always expressed the highest understanding of the significance of the Holocaust as the most tragic part of the Jewish national experience," he said.

"We believe that there is a common responsibility to conduct free research, to promote understanding and to preserve the memory of the history of the Holocaust."

Netanyahu previously criticized the passage of the bill, saying in February: "One cannot change history, and the Holocaust cannot be denied."

Reuters contributed to this report.