Israel and Poland’s governments agreed late on Sunday to work together to revise a bill in parliament that appeared to criminalise any mention of “Polish crimes” during the Holocaust.
The bill, approved by parliament’s lower chamber just before International Holocaust Memorial Day, could make the use of phrases such as “Polish death camps” punishable by up to three years in prison.
It must be approved by the Senate before it is signed into law by the president.
Israel has long supported Poland’s view that the concentration camps set up during the German occupation of the country in the Second World War should not be described as Polish.
But Holocaust survivors and their descendants have objected to the language used in the bill because it could be taken to mean that any mention of Polish citizens who committed crimes against Jews during the Holocaust would be prohibited.
A key passage of the bill reads: “whoever accuses, publicly and against the facts, the Polish nation, or the Polish state of being responsible or complicit in the Nazi crimes committed by the Third Reich… shall be subject to a fine or a penalty of imprisonment of up to three years.”
The intent of the Polish draft legislation is not to ‘whitewash’ the past, but to protect the truth against such slander— שגרירות פולין (@PLinIsrael) January 27, 2018
I am a son of a Holocaust survivor. My grandmother was murdered in Poland by Germans and Poles. I don’t need Holocaust education from you. We live with the consequences every day in our collective memory. Your embassy should offer an immediate apology.— יאיר לפיד (@yairlapid) January 27, 2018
It prompted angry exchanges on social media, including one where the Polish Embassy in Israel’s Twitter account appeared to tell opposition politician Yair Lapid – himself the grandson of Holocaust victims – that he should be “educated” about history.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that Israel would “not accept any attempt to revise history”.
Poland’s chargé d'affaires Piotr Kozlowski was summoned to the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, where he was reprimanded and Israel formally demanded that the law be changed.
Poland’s role during the Second World War has become a hot issue under the country’s nationalist government. Many ministers prefer to focus on Poles – Jewish and non-Jewish – during the war and the fact that Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Authority, Yad Vashem, has recognised 6,700 Poles over the years as “Righteous Gentiles” for saving Jewish lives during the Holocaust.
But some historical research remains extremely controversial, including the thousands of cases in which Poles murdered their Jewish neighbours and appropriated their homes and belongings, and the pogroms in Poland immediately after the Holocaust when Jews returning from the death camps were targeted.
In an effort to defuse the tension, Polish President Andrzej Duda said the law was not final, adding: “everyone whose personal memory or historical research speaks the truth about the crimes and shameful behaviour that occurred in the past with the participation of Poles has full right to this truth.”
But although Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki agreed to work with Israel in redrafting the law, prominent members of his party said in Warsaw over the weekend that a change would be out of the question.