Our Pole position

Holocaust survivors in Israel last month protesting outside the Polish embassy. Photo: Tomer Neuberg/Flash90

THE Australian Jewish community has urged the Polish government to rethink its new law which makes it illegal to claim Polish involvement in the Holocaust.

Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) co-CEO Peter Wertheim met with Poland’s ambassador Michal Kolodziejski to express Jewish Australians’ alarm at the new law, which stifles discussion within Poland about the country’s historic role in the Shoah.

The meeting follows a letter to ECAJ president Anton Block from the Australian Institute of Polish Affairs (AIPA), expressing its opposition to the law signed by Poland’s President Andrzej Duda.

In the letter to ECAJ, AIPA’s president Aleksander Gancarz described the new statute as “ill-considered, ineffective and harmful to the pursuit of truth and detrimental to the reputation of Poland”.

AIPA also slammed the recent comments made by Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki in Munich about “Jewish perpetrators” of the Holocaust, stating that the Australian organisation “distances itself from the remarks … All have the potential to stifle the frank and open historical discussions between Poles and Jews and to harm wider Polish-Jewish relations”.

The letter went on to insist that AIPA “remains committed to the dialogue with the Jewish community, irrespective of the recent controversies created by the Polish government. In fact, these controversies make our commitment to this dialogue even stronger”.

During his meeting last week with Kolodziejski, Wertheim said the Polish law – if the Polish government really thinks Poland needs such a law – should allow for much wider exemptions. The envoy said he would convey ECAJ’s view to his government.

Wertheim told Kolodziejski that Poland and Israel should be the closest of friends given the terrible suffering endured by Poles and Jews at the hands of both Nazism and Communism. Wertheim said he told the ambassador that “both countries should stand together as stalwarts for democracy. He completely agreed”.

In the meeting, Kolodziejski reportedly compared the Polish law to Israel’s law against denying or falsifying the Holocaust. He also said that Israel was consulted about the Polish law before it was passed.

Aside from the new law, Wertheim also raised concerns over the restitution of properties to Polish Jews, and the recent upsurge in anti-Semitism.

In a separate meeting with Kolodziejski, Jeremy Jones, director of International and of Community Affairs of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, discussed deep Jewish concerns at the possible impact of the new legislation, as well as the context of new nationalisms in Europe and the current politics of Europe.

“I have no doubt that the Polish ambassador has a genuine desire to have a strong and vibrant Polish–Jewish relationship and believes that a full and honest appreciation of history and society, including both positive and shameful aspects, is not just necessary but desirable,” Jones said afterwards, adding, “We noted that there is important work to be done to ensure that anti-Semitism is confronted and historical information conveyed effectively and honestly.”