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Polish president apologizes to Jews over 1968 persecution

Poland's President Andrzej Duda announced he will sign into law the controversial Holocaust bill which has sparked tensions with Israel, the US and Ukraine
JANEK SKARZYNSKI (AFP)
Apology comes amid heightened tension between Poland and Israel over Warsaw's new controversial Holocaust bill

Poland's president on Thursday apologized to Jews chased out of the country 50 years ago during the communist regime's anti-Semitic campaign, as Warsaw faces criticism over its new Holocaust law.

"The free and independent Poland of today, my generation, is not responsible and does not need to apologize. But... to those who were driven out then... I'd like to say please forgive the Republic, Poles, the Poland of that time for having carried out such a shameful act," Andrzej Duda said.

His apology comes amid heightened tension between Poland and Israel over Warsaw's new controversial Holocaust bill law that sets fines or a maximum three-year jail term for anyone who refers to Nazi German death camps as Polish or accuses Poland of complicity in the Third Reich's crimes.

The law was purportedly passed in order to prevent a distortion of history that would defame the Polish nation (by use of terms such as "Polish death-camps").

Israel, however, is concerned that a survivor recounting an episode like the Kielce Pogrom, where Poles slaughtered dozens of fellow Poles of Jewish faith long after the Nazis' defeat, could be condemned under the new law.

The Jewish state sees as a bid to deny that certain Poles participated in the genocide of Jews during World War II.

Duda delivered his apology on Thursday at the University of Warsaw 50 years to the day after a student revolt there was crushed by baton-wielding police and later used as an excuse for the regime to unleash its racist campaign. 

"What a shame, what a loss for the Polish Republic today that those who left -- and some who are maybe dead because of 1968 -- are not here with us today, that you are an intellectual elite but in foreign countries, that you are successful people but elsewhere, that your work, your research, your magnificent achievements are not credited to Poland," Duda said. 

"What a shame, I am so sorry." 

JANEK SKARZYNSKI (AFP/File)

He recalled that Polish Jews took part in the country's fight for independence a century ago and later defended it in 1920 against the Soviets and in 1939 against the Nazi Germans. 

A couple hundred people attended the speech to protest against the right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) government and its various controversial actions since coming to power in late 2015.

Chanting "shame" and "constitution", the protesters were notably upset over myriad court reforms introduced by the PiS that critics at home and abroad believe threaten the separation of powers. 

Duda's speech struck a different note than that of Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki on Wednesday, who had stressed that Poland was not an independent country in 1968 and thus could not be held responsible for the communist anti-Semitic campaign. 

He had said Poles should be "proud" of their revolt against the communist regime instead of "being ashamed" of March 1968. 

Before showing up at the university, Duda visited the train station in Warsaw where Jews boarded to leave Poland half a century ago. He laid a wreath and met with representatives of the Jewish community. 

Last week, a Polish delegation arrived in Israel to discuss the legislation focusing on issues relating to historical accuracy, freedom of speech of information. Whilst there is little chance the law will be modified, the talks were of a symbolic nature.

Comments

(1)

so words will be followed with deeds and Poland will be paying reparations to the Jews. or is this just more is coming or of Nazi Poland???

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