Polish leader: Israel 'misunderstands' bill on Holocaust responsibility

Polish leader: Israel 'misunderstands' bill on Holocaust responsibility
Poland's conservative leader defends a bill he proposed which will stop allowing Poland to be blamed for crimes during the Holocaust.
2 min read
04 February, 2018
Jaroslaw Kaczynski defended his proposed bill which caused a spat with Israel [AP]

The powerful leader of Poland’s ruling party urged the president to approve a divisive bill that criminalises anyone who criticises Poland’s role in the Holocaust.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski told Poland’s state radio that the bill, which has ignited a bitter dispute with Israel, is being misunderstood.

It penalises anyone who blames Poles as a nation for the World War II crimes committed by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland. Some six million Polish citizens, half of them Jews, were killed under the Nazi occupation, in death camps, ghettos, prisons and other circumstances.

Although the bill exempts artistic and research work, Israel and staunch ally United States — which broke decades of silence on Jerusalem in favour of Israel — say the proposed law would infringe on free speech about the Holocaust.

Kaczynski said the bill “is being interpreted totally wrong.” He said it penalises accusing Poles as a nation but not “someone who says that somewhere, in some village, some place, a Jewish family or one Jewish person was murdered.”

“I’m saying this with pain and regret and with a sense of shame but such things did happen and we never denied that,” Kaczynski said.

Polish President Andrzej Duda has just under three weeks to either sign the bill into law, send it back to parliament, or send it to the Constitutional Tribunal, which would check its constitutionality. He has spoken in its support.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said on Saturday that Poland can rely on Berlin to condemn distortions of history, such as referring to Nazi camps in occupied Poland as “Polish concentration camps.”

Gabriel said “this organised mass murder was carried out by our country and no one else. Individual collaborators change nothing about that.”

He also spoke in defence of free speech for Holocaust witnesses, saying that is needed for the full appraisal of history that can bring reconciliation.