Polish PM Acknowledges: Holocaust Bill Could Have Been Timed Better

Poland and Israel have experienced a diplomatic rift over the bill, which would outlaw publicly and falsely attributing the crimes of Nazi Germany to the Polish nation

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki talks to the press during his visit on January 2, 2018 to the Ulma Family Museum in Poland that is documenting the fate of the Polish Ulma family, killed by Nazi Germans for rescuing Jews during the Holocaust.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki talks to the press during his visit on January 2, 2018 to the Ulma Family Museum in Poland. Credit: Janek Skarzynski/AFP

Legislation to criminalize certain statements about the Holocaust in Poland could have been timed and presented better, the country's prime minister acknowledged Friday, but he insisted that the law is needed to protect the truth of Poland's wartime history.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki spoke to foreign media correspondents at a museum that memorializes Christian Poles who risked their lives to help Jews during Nazi Germany's World War II occupation of Poland.

Poland and Israel have experienced a diplomatic rift over the legislation, which would outlaw publicly and falsely attributing the crimes of Nazi Germany to the Polish nation. If it is enacted, violators could be punished with up to three years in prison

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

The United States has joined Israel in criticizing the proposed law, saying it would infringe on free expression. Israeli and Jewish groups fear it would be used to whitewash the involvement of some Poles in killing Jews during the 1939-1945 occupation.

Morawiecki, who took office as prime minister in December, has tried in recent days to address the concerns while defending the law. He said Friday that the aim is to prevent the Polish people as a whole from being blamed for what the Germans did in occupied Poland, the location of Auschwitz and other Nazi camps.

"All the atrocities and all the victims, everything that happened during World War II on Polish soil, has to be attributed to Germany," Morawiecki said. "We will never be accused of complicity in the Holocaust. This is our 'to be or not to be.'"

He insisted the law — which has been passed by parliament and awaits the president's signature — would not impinge on freedom of speech, as feared by some.

"This law is not going to limit speech, not even one iota," Morawiecki said.

He did, however, say that Poland should have better explained its intentions to the world, and acknowledged the timing was "unfortunate."

The lower house of parliament approved the legislation on Jan. 26, the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The Senate gave its approval on Thursday. President Andrzej Duda now has three weeks to sign or veto it; he has so far indicated that he supports it.

Morawiecki toured the Ulma Family Museum of Poles Saving Jews in Markowa after first paying his respects outside the building at memorials to Poles who helped Jews and Jewish Holocaust victims.

He then sat down with reporters to explain his thoughts on the law. Asked if he felt the bill had damaged Poland's image, he said he was worried it had.

Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust memorial, has documented 6,706 Polish "Righteous Among the Nations" — gentiles who gave shelter to Jews without a profit motive. That number represents only those cases that could be documented, and historians believe there were also many cases that never came to light, including cases of helpers and Jews discovered and killed.

The German forces imposed the death penalty not only on individuals caught helping, but their entire families. Similar laws were in place elsewhere in occupied Europe, but they were imposed more ruthlessly in Poland, according to the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw.

The people who risked their own lives to save Jews are universally hailed as heroes. Holocaust historians note that Poles who helped Jews had to fear not only the Germans, but Polish neighbors who might report them.

Yet historians also have accused Poland's nationalist government of trying to make it seem that such humanity was the predominant response among Poles. The historians say that ignores the Poles who denounced Jews to the Nazis or killed Jews themselves.

The Markowa museum, which opened in 2016, stands near the place where German soldiers in 1944 killed Jozef Ulma, his pregnant wife Wiktoria and their six small children, as well as eight members of the Goldman, Gruenfeld and Didner families that the Ulmas were sheltering.

Mateusz Szpytma, deputy director of the museum, said it is estimated that between 700 and 1,100 Poles were murdered by the Germans for helping Jews during the war.

Click the alert icon to follow topics:



Automatic approval of subscriber comments.

Subscribe today and save 40%

Already signed up? LOG IN


Yair Lapid.

Yair Lapid Is the Most Israeli of All

An El Al jet sits on the tarmac at John C. Munro International Airport in Hamilton, Thursday, in 2003.

El Al to Stop Flying to Toronto, Warsaw and Brussels

An anti-abortion protester holds a cross in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.

Roe v. Wade: The Supreme Court Leaves a Barely United States

A young Zeschke during down time, while serving with the Wehrmacht in Scandinavia.

How a Spanish Beach Town Became a Haven for Nazis

Ayelet Shaked.

What's Ayelet Shaked's Next Move?

A Palestinian flag is taken down from a building by Israeli authorities after being put up by an advocacy group that promotes coexistence between Palestinians and Israelis, in Ramat Gan, Israel earlier this month

Israel-Palestine Confederation: A Response to Eric Yoffie