Yad Vashem slams deal with Poland

The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising memorial in Poland.

THE Polish government hasn’t really backed down on its Holocaust law, and it is “trying to literally change history”, Yad Vashem historian Havi Dreifuss has told The AJN.

Just a few days ago, the crisis between Israel and Poland over Holocaust history seemed to be drawing to an end.

But this week in Jerusalem, government officials and historians are fuming.

Warsaw has agreed to drop criminal sanctions against people who describe Nazi camps as “Polish” or suggest that the Polish nation was complicit in the Shoah.

But in Israel, this resolution to the conflict is increasingly seen as a hollow concession.

The Israeli government is furious that Poland hasn’t drawn a line under the dispute, as it says was promised, but rather tried to make political capital out of the matter by placing full-page adverts in international newspapers trumpeting the agreement it made with Israel.

“We complained,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon told The AJN.

More dramatically, Yad Vashem, which seemed to have given its blessing to the resolution, has changed its position and is decrying both the revised law and the Polish-Israeli declaration that went along with it.

Yad Vashem welcomed the resolution just over a fortnight ago as a “positive development”, but while chief historian Dina Porat seems to still be broadly supportive, the tide at the institution has changed.

Researchers say that when they first commented they had a false impression of what Israel and Poland had agreed.

Now, Yad Vashem has released a long document lambasting the resolution that was actually agreed, forcing the issue back onto the government agenda.

The release prompted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to say in Sunday’s cabinet meeting that he “will give expression to” the concerns of historians.

Dreifuss said she is alarmed that, despite claims that the crisis over the law has ended, everybody in Poland will still be subject to civil lawsuits if they are deemed to impugn Poland’s “reputation”.

This vague prohibition will scare researchers, journalists and even students from writing truthful Holocaust history, she predicted. “It might really paralyse the field,” she commented.

“Our worries about academic freedom in Poland are not without basis,” she added. “I don’t know what to say to young Polish scholars because they could be sued for exposing some archival finding and addressing it in their research.”

Dreifuss said that the Yad Vashem critique that she helped to author underscores that the Polish-Israeli declaration on history contains “many historical ‘facts’ that are untrue”.

It represents a “false narrative” that is being pushed by Poland and which has now been accepted by Israel.

Poland, she said, is trying to popularise its rewritten version of history by publishing the text of the declaration in newspapers, in a move that has “nothing to do with historical accuracy but rather to do with politics”.

NATHAN JEFFAY