WASHINGTON - U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson attended an International Holocaust Remembrance Day event in Warsaw, Poland on Saturday, amid a controversy over the Polish government's recently approved legislation that would criminalize any mention of crimes by the "Polish nation" during the Holocaust and also make it illegal to use the term "Polish death camp."
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Tillerson did not directly refer to the new Holocaust law in a speech he gave. He said that "on this occasion it reminds us that we can never, we can never, be indifferent to the face of evil."
He also said that "The Western alliance which emerged from World War II has committed itself to the assuring the security of all, that this would never happen again. As we mark this day in solemn remembrance, let us repeat the words of our own commitment: Never again. Never again."
In commemoration, U.S. President Donald Trump also took to Twitter with a Holocaust memorial message, posting a photo of him laying a wreath at Israel's Yad Vashem saying "On Holocaust Remembrance Day we mourn and grieve the murder of 6 million innocent Jewish men, women and children, and the millions of others who perished in the evil Nazi Genocide. We pledge with all of our might and resolve: Never Again!"
Poland's new law was denounced on Saturday by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who called it "baseless," and instructed Israel's embassy to reprimand the deputy ambassador in Israel. Yad Vashem, Israel's official Holocaust memorial, condemned the law, but said Poland had the right to object to the term "Polish death camps."
Other Israeli lawmakers have also condemned it, as well as international political leaders and Jewish officials who, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, warned that the Nazi genocide must keep serving as a reminder of evil.
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The American Jewish Committee also condemned it, stating that "We are friends of Poland. We will never forget that it was the first target of Nazi forces. Its resistance in WWII was powerful, as was its contribution to Allied victory. But crimes by Poles against Jews occurred, as elsewhere. No Polish law should seek to ban such discussion."
Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League, also weighed in on the matter, expressing his support for MK Yair Lapid who clashed with the Polish embassy in Israel on Twitter.
Normalization of hate
Germany and Austria, which perpetrated the killing of six million Jews and millions of others during World War II, are facing rising hatred driven by far-right parties likened to Nazis. The anti-migrant, anti-Muslim AfD party won seats in the German parliament for the first time last year, while the nationalist, anti-migrant Freedom Party is part of the coalition running the Austrian government.
Both parties have members who have made anti-Semitic remarks.
Ultranationalists who espouse anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim views seem emboldened elsewhere as well.
"Neo-Nazis and white supremacy groups are among the main purveyors of extreme hatred," UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement. "And too often, vile views are moving from the margins to the mainstream of societies and politics. We must stand together against the normalization of hate."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel marked the day in her weekly podcast by addressing the reemergence of anti-Semitism.
She called it "incomprehensible and a disgrace that no Jewish institution can exist without police security —whether it is a school, a kindergarten or a synagogue."
Reuters contributed background