Israel has zero tolerance for “distorting the truth, rewriting history or denying the Holocaust,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at Sunday's cabinet meeting, addressing the controversy over the draft bill that passed the lower house of Poland's parliament on Friday making it illegal to attribute complicity in the Holocaust to the “Polish nation” or to use terms such as “Polish death camps.”
Netanyahu said that Israel's ambassador to Poland, Anna Azaria, made Israel's firm position known to Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki at a memorial ceremony marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day at Auschwitz on Saturday night.
During the coming week, he said, she will hold additional meetings about the matter with Morawiecki, as well as the country's president and the Polish senate. The president and senate still have to sign off on the legislation before it becomes law.
"Every day, and especially on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, we remember three things,” Netanyahu said. “First, the six million of our brothers and sisters who were annihilated in the Nazi inferno; Second, the price humanity paid for failing to stand up on time and with the proper strength against a murderous ideology; And thirdly, the constant need to continue and nurture the strength of the State of Israel vis-à-vis the regimes of modern fanaticism.”
Israelis condemn Polish law that bans using the phrase "Polish death camps"
Unlike in the past, Netanyahu said, “We now have our own state; a strong state with the ability to defend ourselves by ourselves. This is, to me, the most important lesson of the Holocaust.”
Piotr Kozlowski, the deputy head of Poland's embassy, was summoned to the Foreign Ministry on Sunday morning and heard similar messages from Rodica Radian-Gordon, the ministry's deputy director-general for Europe, and Akiva Tor, the head of the Foreign Ministry's bureau for World Jewish Affairs and World Religions.
Radian-Gordin and Tor said that the bill will not help those trying to uncover the historical truth, could harm freedom of research into the Holocaust, and could prevent an honest discussion about the history of World War II. Likewise, they objected to the timing of the bill's passage in the lower house of parliament: the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The two made it clear that Israel expected the Polish government to change the wording of the legislation before its final approval, and to dialogue with Israel on the matter.
Koslowski told reporters afterward, “We are not trying to erase history, but rather trying to uphold the truth.” He said that he heard what he “expected.”
Poland’s Ambassador to Israel Jacek Chodorowicz is not presently in the country.
Following harsh criticism from Israel about the bill, Morawiecki tweeted in English Saturday night that “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. Auschwitz-Birkenau is not a Polish name, and Arbeit Macht Frei is not a Polish phrase.”
He also tweeted in Polish that Poland and Israel issued a joint statement following a government-to-government meeting in 2016 saying that both governments “firmly oppose” attempts at “distorting the history of the Jewish or Polish peoples by denying or diminishing the victimhood of the Jews during the Holocaust, or using the erroneous terms of memory such as ‘Polish death camps.’”
Poland's Deputy Justice Minister Patryk Jaki, the author of the bill, tweeted late Saturday night in English in response to the outrage from Jerusalem that the bill is “not against Israel.”
“We criminalize statements such as 'Polish death camps' in case where all death camps on Polish soil were German and even German Ambassador in Poland affirms it. The aim of the bill is to properly point out the perpetrators.”
In addition, he tweeted in Polish that “important Israeli politicians and the media are attacking us for the bill… In addition, they claim that Poles are co-responsible for the Holocaust.” This, he said, is “proof of how much this bill is needed.”