Israel’s president on Thursday said there was a “deep disagreement” between his country and Poland over the Holocaust and called on Warsaw to study its history — an allusion to the responsibility of some Poles for the deaths of Jews.
Reuven Rivlin’s remarks were aimed at a controversial new Polish law that was meant to protect Poland from false accusations of complicity in the Holocaust but has drawn strong criticism from Israel, Ukraine and the United States.
He made the comments near the former Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi German death camp in Oswiecim, southern Poland, speaking alongside his Polish counterpart Andrzej Duda.
Rivlin and Duda on Thursday led the March of the Living, an annual educational event held at Auschwitz-Birkenau marking Yom HaShoah, Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, dedicated to the six million Jews killed by German Nazis during World War II.
“Despite the exceptional relationship between our two peoples, we demand Poland take responsibility for the comprehensive study of the Holocaust,” Rivlin told reporters.
The legislation penalises statements attributing Nazi German crimes to the Polish state with fines or a jail term of up to three years.
But Israel has expressed deep concern that the law could open the door to prosecuting Holocaust survivors for their testimony, should it concern the involvement of individual Poles for allegedly killing or giving up Jews to the Germans.
The legislation came into effect last month, but Duda also asked Poland’s constitutional tribunal to rule on its constitutionality.
Rivlin on Thursday also insisted that politicians should not meddle in history.
“Politicians have the responsibility to create the future, their states and nations, but historians have the responsibility and the duty to write about the past and to study it,” Rivlin said, adding that “you can’t mix these two professions up”.
Duda assured Rivlin that Polish lawmakers had no intention of silencing Holocaust survivors over WWII-era crimes against Jews that were “worthy only of condemnation”.
Auschwitz-Birkenau has become a symbol of Nazi Germany’s genocide of European Jews, one million of whom were killed at the camp between 1940 to 1945.
More than 100,000 others including non-Jewish Poles, Roma, Soviet prisoners of war and anti-Nazi resistance fighters also died there, according to the Auschwitz-Birkenau museum.
An estimated 232,000 of Auschwitz’s victims were children.
Poland was once home to Europe’s largest Jewish population, numbering around three million people, or 10 percent of the population in 1939.
But only about 300,000 survived WWII after Nazi Germany occupied Poland.