German FM Weighs in on Polish Holocaust Bill: Germany Alone Was Responsible for the Holocaust 'And No One Else'

Auschwitz and Majdanek were German death camps, calling them 'Polish' is incorrect, Sigmar Gabriel says amid debate over new Polish draft law

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel prepares for his address to the 11th Annual International Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) Conference in Tel Aviv, Israel January 31, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
\ AMIR COHEN/ REUTERS

Germany's Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel reiterated on Saturday that his country was solely responsible for establishing and operating death camps on Polish soil during the Holocaust, as Poland faced backlash over a bill that some say whitewashes the nation's history. He also stressed that Germany alone was responsible for the Holocaust "and no one else."

In a tweet, Gabriel seemingly backed one aspect of the new Polish law, which still needs to be confirmed and ratified, saying "nothing was as clear" to him as the fact that Auschwitz and Majdanek were German conentrarion camps on Polish soil.

"For 15 years I have organized and led youth group trips to the memorial sites of the former concentration camps in Auschwitz and Majdanek. Nothing was as clear to me as the fact that they were German concentration camps that were not in Poland by chance. ... Poland can rest assured that any kind of falsification of history, such as the term 'Polish concentration camps', meets with clear rejection and is strongly condemned," Gabriel tweeted.

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Poland is seeing a resurgence of anti-Semitism over pending legislation that would impose prison terms for suggestions that the nation was complicit in the Holocaust, local minority groups warned, as pressure mounts on the president to veto the bill.

The Polish Senate passed the measure Thursday, a week after it was approved by the lower house of the parliament, drawing outrage from Israel, criticism from the United States and condemnation from a number of international organizations. President Andrzej Duda has 21 days to decide whether to sign it into law.

"There is not the slightest doubt as to who was responsible for the extermination camps, operated them and murdered millions of European Jews there: namely Germans. This organized mass murder was committed by our country and by no one else. Individual collaborators do not change that," Gabriel said Saturday.

Gabriel added: "We are convinced that only a careful review of one's history can bring about reconciliation. This implies that people who have experienced the intolerable suffering of the Shoah can speak fully about this suffering."

The bill would impose prison sentences of up to three years for using the term “Polish death camps” and for suggesting “publicly and against the facts” complicity on the part of the Polish nation or state in Nazi Germany crimes.

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Duda's office claimed Friday that the "Polish nation" helped "our Jewish neighbors" during the Holocaust and even "alarmed the world about the atrocities of the German Final Solution when there was still time to stop it."

The statement by Duda's cabinet chief also said that though "the barbaric Nazi German ideology aimed at a complete annihilation of the Jewish nation, many tend to ignore that it also led to enslavement, expulsion and eventually to extermination of the Polish and other Slavic peoples."

The letter by Duda's senior aide, Krzysztof Szczerski, was sent to the U.S. Congressional Anti-Semitism Task Force in response to their demand this week that Poland backtrack legislation that once approved by parliament and ratified by the president will bar any mention of involvement by the Polish people, nation or state in Nazi crimes. Though specific examples Polish involvement in the Holocaust will still be permitted, the law has caused controversy with many claiming it is an attempt to whitewash Poland's history.

Duda, whose office published the letter, can demand changes be implemented in the legislation. However, the letter seems to indicate that the Polish president agrees with the spirit of the law.

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"Each year we continue to register hundreds of cases where defamatory language, including the phrase 'Polish death camps,' reappears. These false assertions must not be accepted. Defending the truth is impossible when the lies remain unchallenged," the statement said.

The letter lays out the contemporary Polish narrative regarding the Polish people's actions during the Holocaust and it stresses that Poland as a country was under Nazi occupation and was thus ceased to exist during that time. Moreover, during this period, the Polish people – and not just the Jews – were the victims of Nazi "terror."

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The letter also praises the "thousands of Poles that continued to help their Jewish neighbors despite the draconian law and terrible conditions of the German occupation," including the 6,700 Righteous Among the Nations. Specifically the letter notes that "the Polish Underground State established the Council to Aid Jews “egota” to save as many Jewish lives as possible."

The letter concedes that "nobody in Poland who has elementary knowledge of history" would deny that "there were instances of Polish people behaving disgracefully towards Jews during World War II." Such instances are unequivocally condemned in the letter which stresses that "we do not intend to erase them from our past.

"However, unlike in several other European countries where governments cooperated with the Nazi Germany, such actions were never part of the official policy of the Polish government-in-exile," the letter says, returning to the main crux of the Polish narrative.

"Poland did not collaborate with the Germans in any form. On the contrary that is why we cannot accept accusing the Polish state or the Polish Nation as a whole of being responsible for or complicit in the genocide of the Jewish population during World War II. Such suggestions deny the truth about the Holocaust," the letter concluded.