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Israel accuses Poland of trying to deny the Holocaust

Israel has criticised Poland for plans to outlaw statements describing Nazi death camps as Polish.

Under the bill, which is an amendment to an existing law, the use of phrases such as “Polish death camps” could be punished by up to three years in prison or a fine.

The proposals were voted through by the Polish lower house last week and are expected to pass the Senate, before being signed into law by the president.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at a weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday that Israel had “no tolerance for the distortion of truth, the rewriting of history and the denial of the Holocaust”.

Poles have long objected to phrases such as “Polish death camps”, which suggest Poland was responsible for the genocide.

The death camps were built and operated by German Nazis after they invaded Poland in 1939.

But historical accounts show some Poles collaborated with the Nazis and committed heinous crimes against the Jews during the war.

The proposed bill sparked outrage in Israel, which is home to the world’s largest community of Holocaust survivors. 

The Israeli Foreign Ministry on Sunday said it had summoned Poland’s deputy ambassador to express Israel’s opposition to the legislation.

It also expressed concern over the timing of the bill, which passed the lower house on the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.  The ministry said it expected the draft to be amended before final approval.

“The legislation will not help continue exposing the historical truth and can impede the freedom of research,” it said in a statement.

Israel’s Education and Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett said: “This is a shameful disregard of the truth.

“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.”

But he acknowledged phrases such as “Polish camps” gave a misleading impression of who was responsible for the genocide.

“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 said.

Holocaust remembrance centre Yad Vashem opposed the new law, saying it was “liable to blur the historical truths” about the help Germans received from the Polish population during the Holocaust.

“Restrictions on statements by scholars and others regarding the Polish people’s direct or indirect complicity with the crimes committed on their land during the Holocaust are a serious distortion,” it said.

The centre added it would “continue to support research aimed at exposing the complex truth” about the treatment of the Jews during the Holocaust.

Poland’s deputy chief of mission, Piotr Kozłowski, told Israeli media the law’s purpose “is not to whitewash history, but to safeguard it and safeguard the truth about the Holocaust and prevent its distortion”.

Poland’s Deputy Justice Minister Patryk Jaki, who authored the bill, said Israel’s objections were “proof” it 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. This is proof how necessary this bill is,” he said.

Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has sought to protect the country’s image since it came to power in 2015. It has invoked Poles’ suffering during the Nazi occupation, which included the death penalty for those who helped Jews, to respond to accounts of Poles committing crimes against Jews during the war.

Critics have accused PiS, a right-wing nationalist party, of encouraging the far-right. Tens of thousands of people marched through Warsaw in November last year in an annual gathering of Europe’s neo-Nazi groups.

Agencies contributed to this report

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