Poland’s PM Attempts to Minimize Country’s Holocaust Role: Auschwitz Not a Polish Name

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ERIC PIERMONT/AFP/Getty
DEBORAH DANAN

TEL AVIV – Responding to Israeli outrage over a new bill that would make it illegal to blame Poland for any Holocaust-related crimes, the country’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki on Saturday said the name Auschwitz and the infamous sign outside the death camp bearing the phrase “Arbeit macht frei” are not Polish. 

“Auschwitz is the most bitter lesson on how evil ideologies can lead to hell on earth. Jews, Poles and all victims should be guardians of the memory of all who were murdered by German Nazis,” Morawiecki wrote on Twitter late Saturday. “Auschwitz-Birkenau is not a Polish name, and Arbeit Macht Frei is not a Polish phrase.”

1.1 million people, mostly Jews, were murdered at Auschwitz. A sign above the cast iron gates to the camp read “Arbeit Macht Frei,” German for “work makes you free.”

The passage of the Polish bill occurred on International Holocaust Memorial Day, a fact that was “surprising and unfortunate,” a statement from Israel’s Foreign Ministry said.

Under the bill, anyone who blames Poland for Nazi crimes or uses phrases like “Polish death camps” can face prison time.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the bill as “baseless.”

“We will not accept any attempt whatsoever to rewrite history. We will accept no restriction on research into historical truth,” he said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday.

Netanyahu added that during the week, Israel’s ambassador to Poland will have meetings to discuss the issue with “the entire Polish leadership, including the Prime Minister, the President and the Senate.”

“Every day, and especially on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which was yesterday, we remember three things: One, our six million brothers and sisters who were exterminated in the Nazi horrors. Two, the price that all humanity paid for not taking strong and timely action against a murderous ideology. And third, the constant need to continue building the strength of the State of Israel against the fanatical regimes of our time,” the prime minister said.

“As opposed to the past, today we have a state of our own, a strong state with the ability to defend ourselves, by ourselves. In my view, this is the most important lesson of the Holocaust,” he added.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett said the bill disregarded historical fact and, in response, directed Israeli schools to devote two hours this week learning about the involvement of other European nations – including Poland – in the Holocaust.

“This is a shameful disregard of the truth,” he said.

“It is a historic fact that many Poles aided in the murder of Jews, handed them in, abused them and even killed Jews during and after the Holocaust.”

He acknowledged that describing the Nazi death camps as “Polish” was misleading.

“It is also a historic fact that the Germans initiated, planned and built the work and death camps in Poland. That is the truth, and no law will rewrite it. These facts must be taught to the next generation,” he added.

He called on Poland to “remove this embarrassing bill from the table, as it is shameful to the memory of the Holocaust and the relationship between our countries.”

Poland’s Deputy Justice Minister Patryk Jaki said Israel’s outrage was “proof” that the legislation was needed.

“Important Israeli politicians and media are attacking us for the bill. On top of that they claim that Poles are co-responsible for the Holocaust,” Jaki, who authored the bill, said.

“This is proof how necessary this bill is.”

The bill stipulates that any individual who accuses Poland of being responsible for “crimes against peace and humanity” will be subject to a fine or prison sentence.

“Whoever accuses, publicly and against the facts, the Polish nation, or the Polish state, of being responsible or complicit in the Nazi crimes committed by the Third German Reich … or other crimes against peace and humanity, or war crimes, or otherwise grossly diminishes the actual perpetrators thereof, shall be subject to a fine or a penalty of imprisonment of up to three years,” a translation of the bill reads.

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