Poland Suspends Holocaust Law Until Decision of Constitutional Court

Polish delegation to arrive in Israel soon to work on comprise to contentious legislation that some say whitewashes Poland's role in the Holocaust

Poland's President Andrzej Duda gestures as he gives a press conference with the Lithuanian President following talks in Vilnius on February 17, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Petras Malukas

Poland’s Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, who also serves as the country's chief prosecutor, announced Saturday that the government would not open criminal proceedings against those found breaking the new Holocaust law until Poland’s constitutional court reaches a decision on the legislation.

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Israel’s Foreign Ministry interpreted his statement as “substantial progress” toward reaching a solution to the crisis that broke out after the law passed.

The ministry said that Israel’s ambassador to Poland met with Ziobro a few days ago. According to the ministry, the meeting paved the way for a visit by a Polish delegation to discuss the crisis regarding the law, which critics say is an attempt to whitewash Poles’ role in the Holocaust.

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“As part of talks, obstacles to the two governments meeting were removed,” said the ministry in reference to the Ziobro’s commitment not to enforce the law. “Poland accepted our request, so now the delegation could meet not just as a formality but for real work to be done on reaching a solution.”

The new law outlaws publicly and falsely attributing the crimes of Nazi Germany to the Polish nation. Violators can be punished with up to three years in prison. The law also forbids use of the term “Polish death camp” to describe the death camps where Jews and others were murdered in Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II under the Third Reich.

In an interview with Polish media published on Saturday, Ziobro reiterated the official line that only a handful of Poles cooperated with the Nazis: “It is true that not all Poles behaved decently during German occupation. We also had a small criminal underclass, who were especially visible in small towns, but their guilt cannot be put on the nation as a whole.”

He also added that “tens of thousands of Poles are estimated to have lost their lives for hiding Jews,” but failed to cite a source of this number.

After the law was authorized, the crisis between Poland and Israel grew more severe. The tensions were further fanned by statements made by Polish leaders.

For instance, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki had to release a clarification regarding his statement last week that there were “Jewish perpetrators” in the Holocaust.

The new statement, published by the premier’s spokeperson, said he “by no means intended to deny the Holocaust, or charge the Jewish victims of the Holocaust with responsibility for what was a Nazi German perpetrated genocide.”

It also stressed that his words “should be interpreted as a sincere call for open discussion of crimes committed against Jews during the Holocaust, regardless of the nationality” of those involved.

“Each crime must be judged individually, and no single act of wickedness should burden with responsibility entire nations, which were conquered and enslaved by Nazi Germany,” said the statement.

Morawiecki reiterated that Nazi Germany remains the sole culprit in the Holocaust, and that “before the Second World War, Jews lived, created, and worked in Poland for 800 years.” The statement further noted that Poland seeks to continue dialogue with Israel “in the spirit of truth and mutual trust.”