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Israeli President Rivlin to Polish President: Poles Helped Nazis Exterminate Jews

Poland's President Andrzej Duda, left, and Israel's President Reuven Rivlin, center, walk in the March of the Living, a yearly Holocaust remembrance march between the former death camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau, in Oswiecim, Poland, on Thursday, April 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
AP/Czarek Sokolowski

TEL AVIV – President Reuven Rivlin told his Polish counterpart Andrjez Duda on Thursday while on a visit to the concentration camps in Poland that while some Poles helped rescue Jews during the Holocaust, others participated in their extermination.

“There is no doubt that there were many Poles who fought the Nazi regime, but we cannot deny that Poland and Poles had a hand in the extermination,” Rivlin said in a joint press briefing with Duda in Krakow.

“The country of Poland allowed the implementation of the horrific genocidal ideology of Hitler and witnessed the wave of anti-Semitism sparked by the law you passed now,” Rivlin added, in reference to the controversial so-called “Holocaust bill” passed by the Polish parliament that makes it a crime to place blame for Holocaust-related crimes on Poland or the Polish nation.

Rivlin said that while Israel honors Poles who risked their lives to protect their Jewish neighbors, anti-Semitism still flourished during Nazi-era Poland, making it easier for Hitler’s army to attain its goal.

“People murdered and then inherited [the property of the dead]. Here was the foundation” of anti-Semitic sentiment “that allowed the Nazis to do as they wished, not only in Poland but throughout Europe,” Rivlin said.

“This land was a forge of the Jewish nation’s soul, and to our deep sorrow, also its largest Jewish graveyard. You can’t erase such a rich history, full, painful history,” Rivlin added.

“Policymakers have a duty to shape the future. Historians have a duty to describe the past and investigate history. One must not overstep into the field of the other.”

Duda welcomed Rivlin to Poland and noted  “the enormity of the disaster that happened here” in which “three million Jews were murdered.”

Poland “will never forget them,” the Polish president added.

Duda acknowledged the “great disagreement” between Israel and Poland over the new bill but added that “at no point did we want to block testimony [on the Holocaust]; on the contrary we wanted to defend the historical truths, and as a leader, I want to do this at any price, even when it is difficult for us.”

A translation of the controversial law reads: “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.”

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