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Polish PM says 'unintended misunderstandings' caused tension over Holocaust bill

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki says the country's Holocaust law aimed to make clear people knew "there were no Polish death camps...There were German Nazi death camps"
John MACDOUGALL (AFP)
Polish PM says 'several times more Poles' helped Jews during Holocaust than acted against them

Poland’s prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki chalked up a diplomatic spat between his country and Israel over a divisive new law criminalizing implications of Warsaw’s culpability for crimes committed on its soil during the Holocaust to “a lack of proper communication and unintended misunderstandings.”

Polish and Israeli officials have been feuding over the law, which sets fines or a maximum three-year jail term for referring to Nazi German death camps as Polish or accusing Poland of complicity in Nazi crimes, since it was announced in January.

In a letter to US Rabbi Shmuley Boteach obtained by i24NEWS, Morawiecki defends the law while saying that tensions between Poland and Israel “deeply sadden” him.

“Tensions between Israel and Poland deeply sadden me. An unfortunate lack of proper communication and unintended misunderstandings played a crucial role here,” Morawiecki writes.

Morawiecki’s letter to Boteach, a well-known figure in American Jewry, came in response to the latter’s offer to mediate the crisis in a Jerusalem Post column in February.

Thomas KIENZLE (AFP)

Morawiecki vowed to work to improve relations with Israel in light of the two countries’ “common history of living and, unfortunately, enormous suffering, on Polish soil.”

“Both Poland and Israel have the moral obligation to be the guardians of the truth of Holocaust because of their history,” Morawiecki writes.

“Poland is a firm ally of Israel, and amid the rising wave of antisemitism in Europe, our country is again the safe haven for the Jewish community – as it was throughout the eight centuries before the World War II.”

“We are fighting for the truth only – nothing more, nothing less. This truth should be a firm foundation for another centuries of fortunate coexistence,” he adds.

The controversial legislation, which came in to force earlier this month, triggered an unprecedented diplomatic spat between Poland and Israel, reaching a peak after Morawiecki said "there were Jewish perpetrators" in the Holocaust as there were Polish perpetrators.

JANEK SKARZYNSKI (AFP/File)

Poland claims that the bill is necessary to protect Poles from being depicted as Nazi collaborators, and to prevent Nazi death camps built on occupied land from being erroneously described as “Polish death camps”.

But critics, including Israel's government, have expressed concerns that the legislation could open the door to prosecuting Holocaust survivors for their testimony should it concern the involvement of individual Poles in killing or giving up Jews to the Germans.

“There is a structural difference between the alleged participation or compliance of Poland or Poles in the Holocaust, and the individual acts of particular Poles against Jews and such acts of particular individuals of any other national or ethnic origins, as well,” Morawiecki argues in response to the main criticisms of the bill.

“The Polish legislation never aimed at preventing any discussion based on facts concerning this unspeakable tragedy,” he writes.

“The Holocaust was a German-organized genocide on European Jews against which the legal Polish state institutions fought against,” he adds, citing Poland’s active underground resistance efforts during the Second World War. “This bill is supposed to protect this truth, as it is an important part of the truth of the Holocaust.”

- (Yad Vashem Archives/AFP/File)

Morawiecki also argues that the fact that 300,000 Polish Jews (around 10 percent of the pre-war Jewish population in Poland) survived the Holocaust proves that “several times more Poles were involved in rescuing them” than participated in their persecution.

“No Jewish family, none of our Jewish brothers and sisters could be saved during the Shoah [Holocaust] without some form of help from Polish families, from Polish neighbors,” Morawiecki writes.

“Despite the sacrifices that millions of Poles made during the World War II, they are still being mistaken with the accomplices of Germans,” he continues in defense of the law.

Morawiecki said that prior to the law’s passing, Polish authorities intervened in approximately 1,300 instances in which Nazi-built death camps in Poland were erroneously described as “‘‘Polish camps’, ‘Polish gas chambers’ or similar.”

“International experts agree that using terms as ‘Polish concentration/death camp’ amounts to distortion of the historical truth of the Holocaust,” he says, calling the terminology “only a part of a much larger problem of blaming Poland for German Nazi crimes.”

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