Israeli Schools Step up Education on Poland’s Holocaust Role Amid Controversial Polish Bill

Kazimierz Piechowski and three other Auschwitz inmates escaped the camp in 1942 by stealing SS uniforms and hijacking the car of camp coordinator Rudolph Hoess
DEBORAH DANAN

TEL AVIV – Poland’s deputy ambassador to Israel received a dressing down at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on Sunday over his country’s new legislation that would make it illegal to blame Poland for any Holocaust-related crimes, while Israeli schools this week will devote two hours to learning more about the role Poland played during World War II.  

The passage of the Polish bill occurred on International Holocaust Memorial Day, a fact that was “surprising and unfortunate,” a statement from the Foreign Ministry said. Speaking with Deputy Ambassador Piotr Kozlowski, the ministry’s deputy director general for Western Europe Dr. Rodica Radian-Gordon and its director for world Jewish affairs Akiva Tor expressed “Israel’s opposition to the wording of the law,” the statement said.

“This legislation will not help in exposing historical truths, may harm academic freedom and prevent discussion about the legacy of World War II,” the statement said, and called on Poland to change the wording of the bill and “conduct a meaningful dialogue with Israel.”

“We are not trying to erase history, but rather trying to uphold the truth,” Kozlowski said in response to the meeting. “I heard what I expected to hear,” he added.

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.”

“I strongly oppose it. One cannot change history and the Holocaust cannot be denied,” he said in a statement on Saturday.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett said the bill disregarded historical fact and, in response, directed Israeli schools to devote two hours this week to 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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