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1 Feb, 2018 14:57

‘No Polish law can change history’: Israeli MPs push to criminalize diminishing Nazi collaboration

‘No Polish law can change history’: Israeli MPs push to criminalize diminishing Nazi collaboration

In the latest spat between Poland and Israel over Warsaw’s introduction of a bill to outlaw blaming Poles for WWII death camps, a group of Knesset lawmakers has proposed criminalizing efforts to diminish cooperation with Nazis.

The amendment to the existing Holocaust Denial bill was proposed by a number of Israeli MPs and party leaders on Wednesday. At least 61 members signed the amendment, which provides that diminishing the responsibility of Nazis collaborators (including Polish civilians) is a criminal offence. 

“No Polish law can change history. We will never forget… Not the Nazis or those who collaborated with them,” said Yair Lapid, one of the key figures behind the proposal and a leader of the centrist Yesh Atid political party, as cited by Ynetnews. 

According to Lapid, Poland is attempting to absolve themselves of responsibility “for the deaths of millions of Jews in the Holocaust.” 

The existing law on Holocaust denial was passed by the Knesset in 1986. It applies to anyone who denies or diminishes “acts committed in the period of the Nazi regime.” 

On Wednesday evening, the Polish parliament approved a bill that outlaws blaming Poles for atrocities committed in WWII death camps on Polish soil, as well as use of phrase "Polish death camp.” 

READ MORE: Polish senate passes Holocaust-related bill that triggered diplomatic spat with Israel

Anyone convicted under the law, championed by the ruling and right-wing Law and Justice Party (PiS), could face up to three years in jail. In order to become law, the bill now needs only to be signed by the country's president, Andrzej Duda.

“Many Poles and others heard about, knew about, and assisted the Nazi death camps,” said Itzik Shmuli, a member of the Knesset for the Zionist Union, another key figure behind the amendment.

“The Polish attempt to deny history and to shut the mouths of Holocaust survivors is a farce, disgusting and shocking. Collaborators cannot be allowed to hide behind the Nazis and to shirk their historic responsibility,” Shmuli added

The legislation drew strong criticism from the Israeli government, Jewish rights groups and politicians. Critics argued that it's designed to whitewash history and, in particular, some Poles' complicity in the Holocaust. Poland’s Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) in turn accused the Israeli embassy in Poland of “inappropriate interference” in the law.

On Thursday, the Israeli Foreign Ministry slammed Poland’s yet-to-be-signed legislation, saying that Tel Aviv views with “utmost gravity” any attempt “to challenge historical truth.” “No law will change the facts,” the statement from the ministry said. Earlier in January, the Israeli Foreign Ministry summoned Piotr Kozlowski, deputy head of Poland's embassy, over the matter.

In March 2017, Barbara Engelking, a prominent Polish historian, detailed dozens of cases of Polish citizens killing Jews during World War II in her book. “The responsibility for the extermination of Jews in Europe is borne by Nazi Germany,” she wrote. “Polish peasants were volunteers in the sphere of murdering Jews.”

According to Havi Dreifuss, a director of Yad Vashem’s center for research on the Holocaust in Poland, there were up to 250,000 Jews who escaped and sought help from Poles. However, only around 10-20 percent of those survived.

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