Polish moves to rescind criminal penalty from Holocaust Law

June 28, 2018 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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The World Jewish Congress has welcomed Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s decision to recommend to parliament that it reopen discussions on its new Holocaust Law so as to rescind criminal penalty for suggesting that Poles bore some responsibility for the destruction of Polish Jewry. 

WJC President Ronald S. Lauder and Polish President Andrzej Duda at the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising on 19 April 2018. Photo: Shahar Azran

WJC President Ronald S. Lauder said: “The World Jewish Congress is pleased that the Polish government has recognised the untenable nature of its new Holocaust law, and that it is now taking the appropriate steps to amend one of the most problematic and dangerous clauses and remove the criminal penalties imposed by the law,” Lauder said.

“I have made clear in recent months, including in face-to-face conversations with both President Andrzej Duda and Prime Minister Morawiecki, our profound opposition to this legislation, which leads to an undeniable obfuscation of history and undermines democracy. The law as it stands now stifles any real discussion of the extent to which local Poles were complicit in the annihilation of their Jewish neighbors during the German occupation. It sets a dangerous precedent and is contrary to the values Poland has worked to uphold and promote,” he said.

“Poles are understandably upset when Nazi German annihilation and concentration camps are referred to as ‘Polish’ simply due to their location on German-occupied Polish soil, but it was an egregious mistake to criminalize those who do so, within the framework of a law that in its essence threatens Poland’s good name and international standing,” Lauder said. “To their credit, Polish scholars have not recoiled from researching these painful chapters in the history of their country. Their efforts must not be discredited or hindered.”

“Education, dialogue, and objective research, not criminalisation, are the key to understanding history and achieving mutual respect between our two nations which have a relationship dating back 1,000 years. The World Jewish Congress welcomes the moves now being made by Poland’s leaders to rectify this inherently flawed law, and we urge it to carefully examine each of the clauses to ensure that historical integrity and democracy are reflected and respected,” Lauder said.

A spokesperson for Yad Vashem said: “Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, believes that the current announcement of the Polish government’s intention to modify the controversial amendment to the National Remembrance law passed earlier this year, is a positive development in the right direction.

We believe that the correct way to combat historical misrepresentations is by reinforcing open, free research and educational activities.

Yad Vashem reiterates its support for ensuring that educators and researchers are not hindered in grappling with the complex truth of Polish-Jewish relations before, during and after the Holocaust.”

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “For several months we have held ongoing discussions with the Polish government.

I am pleased that the Polish government, the parliament, the senate and the president of Poland decided today to completely rescind parts of the recently legislated law that caused cause uproar and distress in Israel and in the international community.

I met with Polish Prime Minister Morawiecki about this. We discussed it over the phone and we established task forces that worked together.

I wish to thank the Israeli task force, Adv. Joseph Ciechanover and Prof. Jacob Nagel who engaged in this mission fully, together with the Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Yuval Rotem and the staff at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who are here. I also thank the historian Prof. Dina Porat from Yad Vashem for accompanying the work.”

He  added that they had reached an agreed-upon joint statement between Israel and Poland, which he read in English simultaneously with the Prime Minister of Poland.

Netanyahu commented: “Our ties with Poland are very important and are based on trust. Israel and Poland share the responsibility of upholding the memory of the Holocaust. It is clear to all that the Holocaust was an unprecedented crime which was perpetrated by Nazi Germany against the Jewish nation, including the Jews of Poland. The Polish government has expressed understanding of the significance of the Holocaust as the most tragic chapter in the history of the Jewish people.

We stood on guard to protect the truth and we upheld our prime duty to ensure the historic truth about the Holocaust and we will continue to do so.”

The joint statement:

Adv. Joseph Ciechanover, Prof. Jacob Nagel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Over the last thirty years, the contacts between our countries and societies have been based on a well-grounded trust and understanding. Israel and Poland are devoted, long-term friends and partners, cooperating closely with each other in the international arena, but also as regards the memory and education of the Holocaust.

This cooperation has been permeated by a spirit of mutual respect, mutual respect for identity and historical sensitivity, including the most tragic periods of our history.

Following my conversation with Prime Minister Morawiecki, Israel welcomes the decision taken by the Polish government to establish the official Polish group dedicated to the dialogue with its Israeli partners on historical issues relating to the Holocaust.

It’s obvious that the Holocaust was an unprecedented crime, committed by Nazi Germany against the Jewish nation, including all Poles of Jewish origin.

Poland has always expressed the highest understanding of the significance of the Holocaust as the most tragic part of the Jewish national experience.

We believe that there is a common responsibility to conduct free research, to promote understanding and to preserve the memory of the history of the Holocaust.

We have always agreed that the term “Polish concentration/death camps” is blatantly erroneous and diminishes the responsibility of Germany for establishing those camps.

The wartime Polish government-in-exile attempted to stop this Nazi activity by trying to raise awareness among the Western allies of the systematic murder of the Polish Jews.

We acknowledge and condemn every single case of cruelty against Jews perpetrated by Poles during World War II.

We are honored to remember heroic acts of numerous Poles, especially the Righteous Among the Nations, who risked their lives to save Jewish people.

We reject the actions aimed at blaming Poland or the Polish nation as a whole for the atrocities committed by the Nazis and their collaborators of different nations.

Unfortunately, the sad fact is that some people – regardless of their origin, religion or worldview – revealed their darkest side at that time.

We acknowledge the fact that structures of the Polish underground state supervised by the Polish government-in-exile created a mechanism of systematic help and support to Jewish people, and its courts sentenced Poles for collaborating with the German occupation authorities, including for denouncing Jews.

We support free and open historical expression and research on all aspects of the Holocaust so that it can be conducted without any fear of legal obstacles, including but not limited to students, teachers, researchers, journalists and of course, the survivors and their families, who will not be subjected to any legal charges for exercising the right to free speech and academic freedom with reference to the Holocaust.

No law can and no law will change that.

Both governments vehemently condemn all forms of anti-Semitism and express their commitment to oppose any of its manifestations.

Both governments also express their rejection of anti-Polonism and other negative national stereotypes.

The governments of Poland and Israel call for a return to civil and respectful dialogue in the public discourse.

Prof. Jacob Nagel said: “I wish to say that I treated this task that was given to my friend Adv. Joseph Ciechanover and me as a national mission, no less. As the son of Polish Jews, Holocaust survivors, who lost a large part of their family in Poland, we approached this sensitive and painful subject, to the best of my understanding, with awe and respect, with the required sensitivity and with no compromise.

The task was to rescind the clauses of the law, and on the other hand, uphold the truth and the legacy of the search for truth while maintaining relations of cooperation and trust with Poland. Together with Yossi, and in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, headed by Yuval Rotem, I think we achieved a very good outcome for the people of Israel, which fulfills all the criteria. The Holocaust is a dark and deep abyss in the Jewish people’s past. We must guard the truth about it, teach future generations what happened and ensure that Israel is strong and independent so that such an atrocity never recurs. I thank the Prime Minister for his trust and for charging us with this mission, and my friend Adv. Ciechanover for the join work.”

Joseph Ciechanover added: “I wish to thank the Prime Minister of Israel, Mr. Netanyahu, and the Prime Minister of Poland, Mr. Morawiecki for entrusting me and my friend Professor Jacob Nagel with this important task of ensuring that there is no law and no restriction on discourse about the Holocaust. Discourse about the Holocaust must be open, and the truth must be heard. I believe that I achieved this goal by rescinding the law.

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