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'No law can change the historical truth': Israel slams Polish Holocaust bill

** FILE ** In this April 19, 1943 file photo, a group of Jews, including a small boy, is escorted from the Warsaw Ghetto by German soldiers.
AP Photo
While the law has yet to be passed, it is likely to be approved by the Poland's senate and president

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday led a chorus of outrage against new legislation in Poland that would make illegal suggestions it shared some responsibility for the Holocaust.

On Friday Poland's lower house of parliament approved a bill that prohibits the mention of “Polish death camps” or any insinuation that it played a supporting role in the atrocities committed by the Nazis during their attempt to exterminate the Jewish population of Europe during the Second World War.

The bill, which came just hours before the world marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Saturday, outraged Israeli lawmakers. Israeli's foreign ministry said they had summoned Poland's Deputy Ambassador to Israel for a "clarification" discussion.

Just after the end of the Jewish Sabbath in Israel, Netanyahu blasted the law as "absurd".

"I strongly oppose it. History cannot be changed, and the Holocaust must not be denied," he said, adding that he had instructed Israel's envoy to Warsaw, Anna Azari, to meet the Polish prime minister to convey a "firm stand" against the law.


Earlier, the foreign ministry also called on Poland to amend the bill before it advanced to the upper house.

"No law can change the historical truth," the statement continued, "and there is no place to educate the families of Holocaust survivors, who live every day the memory of their loved ones who perished in the inferno."

Israel's president, Reuven Rivlin, recalled a statement Poland's then-President Aleksander Kwaśniewski, who in 2000 told the Israeli parliament that “one cannot fake history, one cannot rewrite it, one cannot hide the truth. Every crime, every offence must be condemned, denounced, must be examined and exposed."

Rivlin himself added that "living Holocaust survivors are disappearing from the world and we still have to fight for the memory of the Holocaust as it was."

Israeli Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog and leader of the Israeli-Arab Joint List party Ayman Oudeh also slammed the bill, with Oudeh branding the legislation "shameful and dangerous".

The missive came after a fiery exchange between Israeli centrist party leader Yair Lapid and Poland's embassy in Israel on social networking site Twitter.

Janek Skarzynski (AFP)

Lapid wrote that the Holocaust "was conceived in Germany but hundreds of thousands of Jews were murdered without ever meeting a German soldier. There were Polish death camps and no law can ever change that."

Poland's embassy responded that "your unsupportable claims show how badly Holocaust education is needed, even here in Israel," and added that his tweets were "shameless".

However Lapid was also indirectly contradicted by Yad Vashem, the world's foremost institute for the study and remembrance of the Holocaust, who said in a statement that "there is no doubt that the term 'Polish death camps' is a historical misrepresentation!"

"The extermination camps were set up in Nazi-occupied Poland in order to murder the Jewish people within the framework of the Final Solution," the Jerusalem-based institution said.

"However, restrictions on statements by scholars and others regarding the Polish people's direct or indirect complicity with the crimes committed on their land during the Holocaust are a serious distortion."

Nazi Germany established the main hubs of their extermination machine on Polish territory, including the largest concentration camp, Auschwitz, and the three primary extermination camps: Treblinka, Sobibor, Belzec and Chelmno.

AP Photo/Michal Kosc

Poland hosted pre-war Europe's largest Jewish population and there were thousands of reported incidents in which Jews were betrayed by non-Jewish Poles -- including former neighbors and friends -- and where local populations took part in Nazi-led actions to kill Jews.

There are also many witness accounts of non-Jewish Poles going to great lengths to help their Jewish compatriots, including many who were killed for doing so.

In Warsaw's parliament on Friday Polish Deputy Justice Minister Patrick Yaki said that "every day, around the world, the term 'Polish extermination 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," Yaki added, according to Israeli daily Haaretz.

The controversial law also reportedly makes it punishable -- for up to three years in prison -- to "deliberately reduce the responsibility of the 'true culprits' of these crimes,” which specifically pertains to the murder of 100,000 Poles at the hands of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) during World War II.

The law is meant to apply to both Polish citizens and foreigners, though it provides exception for artistic or scientific activity, Reuters reported.

While the law has yet to be passed, it is likely to be approved by the Polish senate and president.


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