Poland’s President Andrzej Duda has signed into a law a controversial bill that makes it a crime for anyone to suggest Polish complicity in the Holocaust. Tensions between Jerusalem and Warsaw over this legislation have been simmering in recent weeks.
In the days leading up to this action, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had said that Israel expects every country in the world to defend the truth about the Holocaust, including Poland.
Speaking at a ceremony at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem honoring diplomats who saved Jews during the Holocaust, Netanyahu said: “The truth about the Holocaust must always be studied. It must always be remembered. Israel works closely with our partners around the world to defend and reveal the truth about the Holocaust. We expect to do that with every country, including Poland. Above all, future generations must internalize the lessons of the Holocaust. I think the most important lesson for all humanity is that hatred, extreme ideologies—these must always be confronted early when there is time to nip them in the bud.”
Poland’s ambassador to Israel, Jacek Chodorowicz, was a notable absentee from the event, which was attended by dozens of ambassadors and diplomats.
The ceremony marked the unveiling of a plaque honoring the work of 36 diplomats from 21 countries recognized by Yad Vashem Holocaust Remembrance Center as Righteous Among the Nations.
“This plaque that we dedicate today recognizes these brave diplomats who acted by the dictates of their conscience without regard for personal and professional consequence,” Netanyahu said.
“When Esther Ofiri’s mother took her from an attic in Hungary to the Swedish delegation, a young diplomat listened to her mother’s pleas and immediately responded, ‘Don’t worry; soon we’ll give you protective passes.’ And that man was Raoul Wallenberg, a hero among heroes. On July 9, 1944, Wallenberg arrived in Budapest to serve at the Swedish embassy, and when he realized how many Jews needed his help, he threw diplomatic caution to the wind and worked tirelessly to save Jews. He issued thousands of protective letters and placed the Swedish flag—he placed the Swedish flag over buildings housing Jews,” Netanyahu continued.
“There are lesser-known heroes. They are all on this wall and they should be known. We should teach our people, I think all of humanity, their courage and example, diplomats like Captain Francis Foley of the United Kingdom and Ho Feng-Shan of China and the others. They deserve to be household names. It’s a matter of justice, but it’s also a matter of educating future generations. So we chose to place this plaque with these brave diplomats’ names here in a prominent place of our Foreign Ministry, because these are the kind of people we ask our young diplomats to emulate. Men and women of boundless courage, men and women of the deepest moral character. By the way, many of them were castigated by their foreign ministries, and for many of them their career came to a swift end. But they risked everything for the truth, and the first thing is establishing the truth. It wasn’t easy to do that because the truth was hidden by iron curtains of lies and deception. The truth is not always easy to establish today either by different means, but the first thing they wanted to establish was the truth. Once they learned the truth, they risked everything for our common humanity, and for that, we and history will justly remember them as heroes,” he added.
“We Jews have learned to believe our enemies when they call for our annihilation. We’ve learned that we must be able to defend ourselves by ourselves against any potential threat. The State of Israel not only has internalized these lessons, it practices it. We hold our hand out to peace for any of our neighbors who wish peace with us, and there are quite a few, and their number is growing, I’m happy to say, and I hope it will extend to all. But we are forever conscious of the danger to us and to the rest of mankind of those who want to exterminate us; ultimately they exterminate the world we all want to keep and cherish,” Netanyahu concluded.
Following the signing of the Polish legislation, comments denouncing the measure poured in from the U.S. and Israel.
“The United States is disappointed that the president of Poland has signed legislation that would impose criminal penalties for attributing Nazi crimes to the Polish state,” said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
The U.S. reaffirmed that “terms like ‘Polish death camps’ are painful and misleading,” but added that “we believe that open debate, scholarship and education are the best means of countering misleading speech.”
Similarly, the Jerusalem-based Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center said it is “unfortunate” that the law was signed.
“These flaws are liable to result in the distortion of history due to the limitations that the law places on public expressions regarding the collaboration of parts of the Polish population—either directly or indirectly—in crimes that took place on their own land during the Holocaust,” Yad Vashem said.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center called the law a “cowardly surrender to the practitioners of extremist politics.”
“Poland has now turned Holocaust distortion into law and joins the ranks of forces that are attempting to evade any historical responsibility for the crimes of the Holocaust,” said Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Wiesenthal Center, and Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the center’s associate dean.
“It is a sad day for Poland,” said Agnieszka Markiewicz, director of the American Jewish Committee’s Warsaw-based Central Europe office. “It is painful to see Poland, which has made such remarkable strides as a country since the dramatic events of 1989, suddenly in a deep crisis with Israel, a strategic partner; with the Jewish world, which had begun to show so much interest in the country; and, yes, with the United States, an essential ally.”
By TPS and combined sources