Polish Jews fear for future
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has declined to comment on this week’s Polish law that can impose jail terms for suggesting Poland was complicit in the Holocaust, which was largely committed on its territory.
Popular at home, the legislation has proved a diplomatic catastrophe abroad, as historians, Holocaust survivors and other governments have condemned the chilling effect on the understanding of the Holocaust.
It has sparked an outpouring of antisemitic rhetoric in Poland as the nationalist, pro-government media portrays the country as under attack from an international anti-Polish campaign by foreign powers and international Jewish lobby groups.
Merkel said she did not want to comment on Poland’s internal politics over the law that threatens up to three years for using the phrase “Polish death camps” and for suggesting “publicly and against the facts” that the Polish nation or authorities were complicit in Nazi Germany’s crimes.
When asked whether the new Polish law limited freedom of expression, Merkel said in her weekly video podcast: “Without directly interfering in the legislation in Poland, I would like to say the following very clearly as German chancellor: we as Germans are responsible for what happened during the Holocaust, the Shoah, under National Socialism.”
Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party says the row has been created by Jewish advocacy groups seeking compensation for property restitution claims. The nationalist TV Republika website said the debate was “a big test of loyalty for the Polish Jews whose organisations are linked personally and institutionally with American Jews”, saying they “too rarely and too weakly [defend] Poland and the Poles in the international arena”.
Israel has condemned the legislation that could deny the involvement of Poles in the Holocaust and it is feared that the legislation will criminalise anyone giving testimony about Poles who blackmailed or murdered Jews.
The US State Department urged Poland to reconsider the law, saying it was “concerned about the repercussions” for bilateral relations over the Holocaust law.
After Polish President Andrzej Duda signed the bill into law this week, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said he was disappointed. “Enactment of this law adversely affects freedom of speech and academic inquiry,” he said.
Almost 50 years ago, Polish Jews departed after an “anti-Zionist campaign” in March 1968, when a power struggle within the Polish communist party led to anti-semitic propaganda which pushed thousands of Polish Jews to emigrate.
“Loyalty to socialist Poland and imperialist Israel is not possible simultaneously,” then prime minister Józef Cyrankiewicz said in 1968. “Whoever wants to face these consequences in the form of emigration will not encounter any obstacle.”
The Nozyk Synagogue, Warsaw’s only Jewish place of worship to have survived the Second World War physically intact. Picture credit: Wikimedia