Sunday 19 August 2018

Israeli fury as Poland 'rewrites history' of Nazi death camps

Survivors and guests walk past the 'Arbeit Macht Frei' gate at the former Nazi German concentration camp on International
Holocaust Remembrance Day in Oswiecim, Poland Photo: AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski
Survivors and guests walk past the 'Arbeit Macht Frei' gate at the former Nazi German concentration camp on International Holocaust Remembrance Day in Oswiecim, Poland Photo: AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski

Rachel Alexander

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, accused Poland of trying to rewrite history yesterday, as the country pushed legislation that would make it illegal to describe Nazi death camps as "Polish".

In a cabinet meeting yesterday, Mr Netanyahu said Israel had "no tolerance for the distortion of the truth, the rewriting of history and the denial of the Holocaust".

The controversial bill marks a dramatic step by Poland's nationalist government to enforce its official stance that all Poles were heroes during the war. Historians say many Poles collaborated with the Nazis and committed heinous crimes.

Israel has also summoned its Polish envoy to show its displeasure with the proposals, which could see those who blame Poles for Nazi war crimes fined or even jailed.

The bill, which still needs approval from Poland's Senate and president, has sparked outrage in Israel, which declared independence in the wake of the Holocaust and is home to the world's largest community of Holocaust survivors.

Israel's foreign ministry has also expressed concern over the timing of the bill, which was passed on the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and said it expects 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," a spokesman said.

For decades, Polish society avoided discussing the killing of Jews by civilians or denied that anti-Semitism motivated the slayings, blaming all atrocities on the Germans.

A turning point was the publication in 2000 of a book, 'Neighbours', by Polish-American sociologist Jan Tomasz Gross, which explored the murder of Jews by their Polish neighbours in the village of Jedwabne. The book resulted in widespread soul-searching and official state apologies.

But since the conservative and nationalistic Law and Justice party consolidated power in 2015, it has sought to stamp out discussions and research on the topic. It demonised Mr Gross and investigated whether he had slandered Poland by asserting that Poles killed more Jews than they killed Germans during the war.

Holocaust researchers have collected ample evidence of Polish villagers who murdered Jews fleeing the Nazis.

According to one scholar at Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, of the 160,000-250,000 Jews who escaped and sought help from fellow Poles, about 10 to 20pc survived. The rest were rejected, informed on or killed by rural Poles, according to the Tel Aviv University scholar, Havi Dreifuss.

At Auschwitz, however, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki stressed many Poles helped Jews, risking their own lives, noting that some 7,000 had been recognised by Yad Vashem but suggesting the Polish sacrifices have not been acknowledged adequately.

"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 said later on Twitter.

Yad Vashem issued a statement opposing the Polish legislation and trying to put into historical context the "complex truth" regarding the Polish population's attitude toward its Jews.

Irish Independent

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