Israelis in talks over Holocaust law
Israel and Poland have sent diplomats to talks in Jerusalem in an effort to resolve the row over Poland’s Holocaust law that has been labelled an attack on free speech.
The law, which came into effect yesterday (Thursday), makes it illegal to accuse the Polish state of complicity in Nazi crimes.
Israel claims the law could criminalise some survivors whose testimony implicates Poles in the death of Jews.
It is argued that the law will stifle studies about Polish involvement in the mass slaughter of Poland’s Jews.
At Jedwabne, north-eastern Poland, for instance, at the instigation of the Nazis, Poles murdered more than 300 Jewish residents.
Israel said the talks were “in-depth and open”.
“We expressed our reservations about the Polish law by focusing on the article of this text which obstructs the search for the truth and an open historical debate,” Israel’s foreign ministry said.
Many more Poles are honoured by Israel for saving the lives of Jews during the war than any other nation.
The law says “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… shall be subject to a fine or a penalty of imprisonment of up to three years”.
There is the exception that someone “is not committing a crime if he or she commits such an act as part of artistic or scientific activities”.
In 2001 the book Neighbours by Polish scholar Jan Gross discussed Jedwabne and changed the national debate.
Poland’s chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, said: “It unleashed an incredible national discussion. It went on for about a year. Almost every day there was something in the newspapers, journals, magazines, radio and TV.
“Ten years earlier Poles discovered that something horrible happened to Jews and 10 years later they said: ‘Wait a second, you know, some of our own people helped.’
“Under the communists one of the mantras was ‘We Poles suffered under the Nazis’, and now all of a sudden they’re being told, yes you were persecuted but some of you were not only victims, some of you were even collaborators,” Schudrich added.
“That entails a change of a national image, which is very hard, and I have tremendous respect for Poles who were able to say we are not as perfect as we thought. For a country to do that is simply inspiring. There are still Poles today that don’t want to admit it and that’s a black stain on the soul of Poland,” he told the BBC.
During the Second World War, Poland suffered from two brutal occupations, Nazi and Soviet, and more than 5 million of its citizens, including 3 million Jews, were killed.
Victims. Picture credit: Pixabay