‘The blood of Polish Jews cries from the ground’

Polish President Andrzej Duda. Photo: Mateusz Wlodarczyk/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

POLAND’S President dealt a major blow to Israel and Jewish groups on Tuesday, announcing that he will ratify a controversial new Holocaust law.

The law will “jeopardise the free and open discussion about the role of Poles – individuals and groups – in the persecution and murder of the Jews during the Holocaust”, claimed Yad Vashem, moments after Poland’s Andrzej Duda announced that he is signing the legislation.

Duda made his decision just five days after the legislation passed the Polish senate. There was conflicting information as The AJN went to press on when he plans to sign the law – and some suggestion that he did so immediately after announcing his intention.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry is “categorically” opposed to the law, and “views with utmost gravity any attempt to challenge historical truth”.

The new law will give custodial sentences to people who describe Nazi camps as “Polish death camps” or who suggest that the Polish nation was complicit in the Shoah.

It will also empower courts to imprison somebody who “grossly diminishes the responsibility of the true perpetrators of said crimes”.

The ruling Polish right-wing hates being reminded that some Poles helped the Nazis during the war, and this clause could be used to prosecute people who put the emphasis on particular wartime deaths on Poles as opposed to German Nazis.

In Israel, anger over the law has crossed party lines, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and members of his Likud party urging Warsaw not to finalise the legislation, and opposition parties reacting just as strongly.

Nachman Shai of the Zionist Union party told The AJN that the final vote on the law indicates that politicians in Warsaw are “determined to underplay” the role of Poles in the Holocaust.

Israel’s Education Minister Naftali Bennett planned to visit Poland, but Warsaw pulled the plug on his trip because of his disdain for the law.

He hit back that he was “honoured” that Poland decided to keep him away, and declared: “The blood of Polish Jews cries from the ground, and no law will silence it.”

Several Diaspora organisations expressed dismay. The American Jewish Committee, which places a heavy emphasis on strengthening Polish-American-Israeli-Jewish relations, voiced “profound regret”.

Poland’s Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz said that Israel misunderstands the law due to “over-interpretation,” and President Duda suggested that it is a legitimate law which “preserves the interests of Poland, our dignity and the historical truth”.

Duda said that he will ask Poland’s Constitutional Court to give clarifications about how the law will be applied.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry expressed hope “that within [the] allotted time until the court’s deliberations are concluded, we will manage to agree on changes and corrections”.

But Yad Vashem wasn’t reassured by talk of the Constitutional Court. Flaws in the law, it said, “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”.

NATHAN JEFFAY