Polish Prime Minister: 'Auschwitz-Birkenau is not a Polish name'

New Polish law leads Polish and Israeli leaders to take strong positions in a painful discussion.

January 28, 2018 01:27
3 minute read.
Polish Prime Minister: 'Auschwitz-Birkenau is not a Polish name'

Visitors gather on the grounds of the former Nazi German concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki used social media on Saturday to state on International Holocaust Memorial Day that "Auschwitz is the most bitter lesson on how evil ideologies can lead to hell on earth."

The Polish leader was quick to add that all the victims, Poles as well as Jews and other victims, "should be guardians of the memory of all who were murdered by German Nazis."

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This statement comes after Israeli leaders reacted strongly against the "Polish Death Camps" law. A law that would make it an offense to claim 'the Polish Nation' was linked to crimes committed against Jews under the Nazi occupation of Poland.

Morawiecki stressed that "Auschwitz-Birkenau is not a Polish name, and Arbeit Macht Frei is not a Polish phrase."

The Polish name of the town in which Auschwitz was built is Oswiecim.

Israeli leaders such as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid voiced their concern that such a law would distort historical realities and make free and open discussion of history much more difficult.

“History can not be changed, and the Holocaust must not be denied,” said Netanyahu.

Netanyahu also called the Polish law 'absurd' and stated that he asked Israeli ambassador in Poland Anna Azari to voice his stance to the Polish Prime Minister.

Lapid used social media to state: “I utterly condemn the new Polish law which tries to deny Polish complicity in the Holocaust...There were Polish death camps and no law can ever change that.”

Lapid also added that "Poland was an accomplice to the Holocaust" and that hundreds of thousands of Jews died in Poland without meeting ''a single German officer."

The memory of what happened to the various people living in Poland - Jews, Catholic Poles, Ukrainians, and German speaking Polish citizens - is a complex and often difficult thing to asses.

For example, both German speaking Poles and Ukrainians living in the East of Poland were removed from Poland after WW2 ended.

While few in Poland deny the uniqueness of Jewish suffering during the Holocaust, many Catholic-Poles wish that the world, as well as Jewish people, would be better informed of the suffering of Polish people under both the Nazis and the Soviets.

Many Polish people are quick to point out that Poles were far less likely to aid the Nazis than their counterparts in Norway, the Netherlands and France, that three million Poles were murdered during WW2, and that the suffering Poles endured under both Soviet and Nazi regimes had been immense.

Historians such as Princeton professor Jan Tomasz Gross point out that, while Polish suffering was a very real thing, Polish people had actively taken part in the killing and hunting of Jews both during and after WW2.

If passed, such a law “could blur the historical truth about the assistance the Germans received from the Polish population during the Holocaust,” reads an official statement by Yad Vashem. 

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