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Israel summons Polish envoy over Holocaust bill

2 min 10Approximate reading time

Israel summoned a top Polish diplomat on Sunday to express concerns over legislation Warsaw was advancing regarding the Holocaust and the definition of Nazi death camps.

Poland's rightwing-dominated parliament adopted legislation on Friday setting a maximum three-year jail term for anyone who accuses the Polish nation or state of complicity with Nazi crimes, or who refers to Nazi German death camps as being Polish.

The measure, intended to apply to both Poles and foreigners, must still pass the Senate before being signed by the president.

The charge d'affaires for Poland's embassy in Israel, Piotr Kozlowski, was summoned to the foreign ministry for a "clarification" with senior officials, a statement read.

"Israel's opposition to the wording of the bill was expressed to him," the ministry said.

"The timing of the bill -- the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day -- was particularly surprising and unfortunate."

It added that "the legislation will not help further the exposure of historical truth and may harm freedom of research, as well as prevent discussion of the historical message and legacy of World War II".

Late on Saturday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Poland of seeking to deny history with the bill, sentiments he repeated at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting.

"We have no tolerance for the distortion of the truth and rewriting history or denying the Holocaust," Netanyahu said on Sunday.

Noting that the bill must go through two more stages before being finalised, Netanyahu said he had expressed "our position that it must be changed".

"Over the week our ambassador (to Poland) and her team will have talks about this with the Polish leadership, including the prime minister, president and Polish senate," Netanyahu said.

- 'Not a Polish phrase' -

Faced with the criticism, Poland's President Andrzej Duda on Sunday vowed to review the bill.

He said he would present his "final evaluation of procedural legal provisions after the completion of parliament's work and a careful analysis of the final shape of the act."

Israel's ambassador to Poland Anna Azari told the Polish PAP news agency that Israel believes the legislation could open the door to Holocaust survivors being prosecuted for their testimony should it concern the involvement of Poles in war crimes.

Duda appeared to address the concerns, saying that "everyone whose personal memory or historical research speaks the truth about the crimes and shameful behaviour that occurred in the past with the participation of Poles has full right to this truth."

Poland was attacked and occupied by Nazi Germany in World War II, losing six million of its citizens, including three million Jews in the Holocaust.

Polish officials routinely request corrections when global media or politicians describe as "Polish" former death camps such as Auschwitz set up by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland.

On Saturday night, Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki wrote on Twitter that "Auschwitz-Birkenau is not a Polish name, and Arbeit Macht Frei is not a Polish phrase".

He was referring to the words on the Nazi camp's infamous wrought-iron gate that mean "Work makes you free" in German.

Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, said it opposed the new legislation, but also noted there was "no doubt that the term 'Polish death camps' is a historical misrepresentation".

"However, restrictions on statements by scholars and others regarding the Polish people's direct or indirect complicity with the crimes committed on their land during the Holocaust are a serious distortion," it said.

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