Polish PM Defends New Holocaust Law: 'Auschwitz-Birkenau, Arbeit Macht Frei Are Not Polish'

Netanyahu orders embassy to meet with Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki over law criminalizing any mention of Polish crimes during Holocaust ■ Israeli Arab lawmakers join Jewish counterparts in calling out Poland

Noa Landau
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The entrance to the former Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau with the lettering 'Arbeit macht frei' ('Work makes you free') in Oswiecim, Poland.
The entrance to the former Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau with the lettering 'Arbeit macht frei' ('Work makes you free') in Oswiecim, Poland.Credit: רויטרס
Noa Landau

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki responded to criticism of new Polish law which bars any mention of crimes by the "Polish nation" during the Holocaust, tweeting "Auschwitz-Birkenau is not a Polish name, and Arbeit Macht Frei is not a Polish phrase."

"Auschwitz is the most bitter lesson on how evil ideologies can lead to hell on earth. Jews, Poles and all victims should be guardians of the memory of all who were murdered by German Nazis," he tweeted.

>>With new Holocaust bill, Polish victims of the whitewashing of history are now its perpetrators | Analysis

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the new legislation on Saturday, calling on Israel's ambassador in Warsaw to meet with the Polish prime minister on the contentious bill.

"The law is baseless. I strongly oppose it. History cannot be changed and it is forbidden to deny the Holocaust. I ordered the Israeli embassy in Poland to meet with the Polish Prime Minister and express my firm stand against the law," Netanyahu said.

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The deputy Polish ambassador in Israel has been called in for a reprimand at the Foreign Ministry. The Polish ambassador is currently abroad.

In a statement from the President's Office, President Reuven Rivlin also criticized the bill, saying that "on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, more than ever, and above all considerations, we are faced with our duty to remember our brothers and sisters who were murdered."

On Friday, the Polish parliament approved a controversial law forbidding any mention of participation of the "Polish nation" in crimes committed during the Holocaust. Yair Lapid, the head of the centrist Yesh Atid party, got into a Twitter feud with the Polish embassy in Israel on Saturday and even had to remind them not give him, the child of Holocaust survivors, a lesson on the subject, prompting them to label him "shameless."

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"I utterly condemn the new Polish law which tries to deny Polish complicity in the Holocaust. It was conceived in Germany but hundreds of thousands of Jews were murdered without ever meeting a German soldier," Lapid tweeted Saturday.

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. Anyone who violates the new law, including non-Polish citizens, will be liable to a fine or imprisonment for up to three years.

>> Polish parliament votes to criminalize any mention of Polish crimes during the Holocaust <<

"There were Polish death camps and no law can ever change that," Lapid wrote. However, the Polish embassy in Israel quickly responded, writing Lapid: "Your unsupportable claims show how badly Holocaust education is needed, even here in Israel."

The embassy also linked to a statement by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, an international organization representing 27 nations and dedicated to the memory of the Holocaust, which supports the idea that it is "historically unsupportable to use the terms 'Polish death camps.'"

>> I am the Director of the Auschwitz Memorial. Don't make the mistake of thinking it's history | Opinion <<

"The intent of the Polish draft legislation is not to ‘whitewash’ the past, but to protect the truth against such slander," the embassy wrote.

Lapid fire back: "I am a son of a Holocaust survivor. My grandmother was murdered in Poland by Germans and Poles. I don’t need Holocaust education from you.

"We live with the consequences every day in our collective memory. Your embassy should offer an immediate apology," Lapid wrote.

The Polish embassy then responded again, asking Lapid: "How does that relate to the fact that WW2 death camps were German Nazi, not Polish (our thread)? Shameless."

Transportation and Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz tweeted that it was "The Polish parliament's law is to deny Poland's part in and responsibility for the massacre that took place on its soil. We will not forgot or forgive."

MK Ayman Odeh wrote on Twitter: "The decision of the Polish government is shameful and dangerous. Holocaust denial links to the darkest moments in history. Only deep recognitions of the injustices in the past guarantee the sanctity of life in the future."

Arab lawmaker MK Ahmad Tibi responded: "I propose to the Polish government to quickly cancel its shameful decision. Rewriting history is never a worthy act. Never."

Labor Party Chairman Avi Gabbay also tweeted: "The decision will encourage Holocaust deniers around the world to spread their lies. Ignoring history does not change it."

MK Isaac Herzog also responded to the news from Poland, writing that "The bill which had just passed in Poland is morally and factually wrong," saying it seemed to entail an "element of Holocaust denial. It should not have been legislated. I sincerely hope that it will be abolished soon by the Polish leadership and legislature."

According to the law, which was approved on Friday by the country's lower parliament, anyone who publicly attributes guilt or complicity to the Polish state for crimes committed by Nazi Germany, war crimes or other crimes against humanity, will be liable to criminal proceedings. Punishment will also be imposed on those who are seen to "deliberately reduce the responsibility of the 'true culprits' of these crimes."

The new law will apply both to Polish citizens and to foreigners regardless which country the statement is supposed to have been made in.

The implication of the new law means that in theory, a Jewish Holocaust survivors from Poland who lives in Israel, who may make a statement such as "the Polish people were involved in the murder of my grandfather in the Holocaust," or "my mother was murdered in a Polish death camp," would be liable for imprisonment in Poland.

Polish Deputy Justice Minister Patryk Jaki told parliament on Friday: "Every day, around the world, the term 'Polish death camps' is used - in other words, the crimes of Nazi Germany are attributed to the Poles. So far Poland has not been able to effectively combat this kind of insult against the Polish nation."

The law has yet to be passed by the Senate and the Polish president, however is considered to have passed its largest hurdle.

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