TEL AVIV – Poland cancelled a scheduled visit to the country by Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett after he made comments charging the European nation with complicity in the murder of Jews during the Holocaust, Bennett claimed Monday evening.
The news comes amid outrage in Israel over a controversial bill signed by the Polish senate last week that would make it illegal to blame Poland for any Holocaust-related crimes. On Tuesday, Polish President Andrzej Duda announced that he would give the final sign-off on the legislation.
“There will be no such visit,” Polish government spokeswoman Joanna Kopcinska told a local Polish TV news channel on Monday evening in regard to Bennett’s purported trip.
Bennett accused Poland of “avoiding the truth.”
“As the Minister of Education for the state of the Jewish People I will stand tall, for I cannot forgive or relinquish the honor of those murdered,” he said in a statement to Breitbart Jerusalem and other news agencies.
“The blood of Polish Jews cries from the ground, and no law will silence it. The government of Poland canceled my visit because I mentioned the crimes of its people,” he added.
However, From the Depths, a nonprofit that acts as both a Holocaust memorial and a bridge between Polish and Jewish communities, denied Bennett’s claim that the Polish government cancelled his visit. According to the group’s Executive Director Jonny Daniels, From the Depths extended an invitation to Bennett to visit Poland with the goal of opening a dialogue about the controversial legislation. The visit, which was not coordinated with Israel’s Foreign Ministry, was postponed when Daniels learned that President Duda would likely sign the bill.
“We thought that given the circumstances, it would be best to push off the visit,” Daniels told Breitbart Jerusalem in a telephone conversation from Warsaw.
Daniel’s organization had scheduled meetings for Bennett with Polish officials, including Prime Minister Mateusz Morawieck.
Last week, Bennett said that “the past cannot be rewritten – the Polish people had a proven role in the murder of Jews during the Holocaust.”
Bennett reiterated the same message in his statement on Monday.
“Now, the next generation has an important lesson about the Holocaust of our People, and I will ensure they learn it. This decision by the Polish government has a role to play in Holocaust education, even if they intended it to achieve something else,” he said.
However, Bennett, who also serves as the minister for diaspora affairs, acknowledged that the concentration camps were built and run by the Nazis.
“Yes, the death camps in Poland were built and operated by the Germans, and we cannot allow them to evade responsibility for these actions. However, many Polish people, all over the country, chased, informed or actively took part in the murder of over 200,000 Jews during and after the Holocaust. Only a few thousand people, Righteous Among the Nations, risked themselves to save Jews,” he said.
“This is the truth. I accepted an invitation to a dialogue based on truth. The Polish government chose to avoid this truth. No legislation will change the past,” he added.
According to Daniels, Bennett was invited to visit the country in his capacity as education minister in the hope that Bennett would succeed in “calming” the high tensions resulting from the bill’s passage.
“Personally, I believe in education, not legislation,” Daniels told Breitbart Jerusalem. “As such, I believe that the bill was unnecessary.”
But, he added, “if the law only dealt with so-called Polish death camps then the Israeli side would understand it.”
The law stipulates that anyone who uses the term “Polish death camps” would be subject to a fine or imprisonment.
Daniels said that using such terminology was tantamount to “Holocaust denial.”
“As Jews and Israelis the most important thing for us is fighting Holocaust denial,” he said, and that using incorrect terminology leads to a revision of historical facts.
While Daniels conceded that there were “undoubtedly many, many bad Poles who were involved in horrific crimes” against Jews, the bill’s wording criminalizes those who accuse the Polish government or the Polish nation as a whole of complicity with the Nazis.
However, he added that “many parts of the law that could be open to interpretation” and he invited Bennett for that reason, hoping that such a visit could lead to the bill’s amendment.
“But instead of choosing to have a dialogue with the Polish people, Bennett decided to speak to his voter base,” Daniels said.
Other historians are less forgiving towards the Polish nation than Daniels.
The son of a Holocaust survivor and Polish history professor Jan Grabowski said, “The Germans were able to mobilize segments of the Polish society to take part in their plan to hunt down the Jews and help them carry out their Final Solution.”
Efraim Zuroff, another Holocaust historian who serves as the Eastern Europe director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said that large swaths of the population either directly killed or else gave up their Jewish neighbors’ whereabouts to the Nazis.
“Everybody knows that many, many thousands of Poles killed or betrayed their Jewish neighbors to the Germans, causing them to be murdered,” said Zuroff. “The Polish state was not complicit in the Holocaust, but many Poles were.”