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Polish Team Heads to Israel to Discuss Holocaust Law Crisis

Updated on
  • Poland seeks to find ‘common ground’ with Israel: spokeswoman
  • Polish-Israeli relations deteriorated over Nazi-era history

A Polish government team is traveling to Israel to de-escalate a crisis surrounding a new Holocaust law criminalizing suggestions that Poland bears any responsibility for the mass murder of Jews during World War II.

Poland is trying to defuse its biggest standoff with Israel in at least three decades over the law, which has drawn warnings that it verges on denying the crimes of the Holocaust from the U.S. and other allies. As Jewish groups raise the alarm over what they say is growing anti-Semitism in Poland, the ruling Law & Justice party has responded by saying there’s a rising tide of anti-Polish sentiment around the world.

Some ruling-party lawmakers have called for the new law -- which envisages jail terms of as much as three years for falsely suggesting the nation of 38 million was complicit in the Holocaust -- not to be applied, at least until it’s vetted by the Constitutional Court. Deputy Foreign Minister Bartosz Cichocki will also lead a team to try to smooth frayed nerves in a meeting with Israeli officials in the Jewish state on Thursday.

“I can’t imagine two nations that are both victims of the war not being able to find common ground,” government spokeswoman Joanna Kopcinska said by phone. “We have to do all we can so that many centuries of good Polish-Jewish relations can continue.”

While Law & Justice has tried to portray the dispute as a misunderstanding, saying that Poles and Jews were both wartime victims of Nazi Germany, it has also tried to deflect blame from Poland with gaffe-filled accusations against Germans, Ukrainians, Russians and even Jews themselves for Holocaust crimes.

Anti-Semitic Purge

On Wednesday, a Senate committee is discussing a resolution proposed by a ruling party lawmaker saying that it was communists serving Soviet Russia, rather than Poles, who were behind anti-Semitic purges in the country in 1968. The Communist authorities, which organized the campaign, didn’t represent the will of nation but interests of Moscow, Law & Justice Senator Jan Zaryn said in the draft resolution.

Initiated to silence student demonstrations in Warsaw, the events led to the exodus from Poland of about 13,000 people, including renowned artists and intellectuals. They wrongly put the blame on Poles and created "a black legend about the nation," Zaryn said. Pawel Spiewak, director of Warsaw-based Jewish Historical Institute, denounced the proposal as an attempt to whitewash the past.

“When I hear about this resolution, my concern is that the language of the ruling party is being shaped by people with the extreme views," Spiewak told TVN24 BiS television. “If the intention is to say it wasn’t Poles but communists that organized March 1968 events, it’s simply falsifying history.”

Poland has sought to improve ties with Israel since the 1989 fall of communism, allowing open research into crimes committed by Poles against Jews during the Nazi occupation. It also undertook reconciliation efforts, such as the 2001 apology by then-President Aleksander Kwasniewski for anti-Semitic incidents including the wartime massacre of Jews by their Polish neighbors in the village of Jedwabne in 1941.

(Updates with draft Senate resolution in sixth paragraph.)
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