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Polish PM says solving Israel diplomatic row is 'do or die' task

1 min 36Approximate reading time

Poland's prime minister on Friday said that finding a way out of a diplomatic row with Israel and the US triggered by Warsaw's controversial Holocaust bill was a "do or die moment" for him.

The controversial bill intended to safeguard Poland's image abroad sets fines or a maximum three-year jail term for anyone who refers to Nazi German death camps as Polish or accuses Poland of complicity in the Third Reich's crimes.

Like Israel, the US, the EU and Ukraine have also slammed the legislation, warning it could limit Holocaust research and serve to deny the involvement of individual Poles in Nazi Germany's extermination of Jews.

"This is a temporary weakening of relations with Israel and the USA but I hope that soon they will improve as we will explain our position," Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told a group of foreign journalists.

"As a prime minister this a do or die moment. We will be explaining. It's an important moment," said the leader of the right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) government who took office after a cabinet reshuffle in December.

Morawiecki and his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu have agreed to set up working groups to focus on Holocaust history in a bid to resolve the dispute.

Israel and Jewish groups across the globe are also concerned the bill could open the door to Holocaust survivors being prosecuted for their testimony should it concern the involvement of Poles in war crimes.

Morawiecki has ruled out any such possibility and insisted on Friday that the "law will not limit research at all."

- 'Can't back down' -

To take effect, the controversial bill still needs to be approved by President Andrzej Duda, who said earlier this week that Poland "absolutely can't back down, we have the right to defend the historical truth".

Morawiecki invited the foreign press along on Friday as he paid tribute to Poles who lost their lives helping Jews during World War II.

Poland opened a museum in 2016 on the exact spot in the southeastern village of Markowa where Nazis executed a young family for sheltering Jews.

The Ulma family were killed by German soldiers on March 24, 1944.

Jozef Ulma, his seven-month pregnant wife Wiktoria and their six young children were all executed, as were the eight Jews they had been harbouring.

Saving Jews carried the death penalty in Nazi-occupied Poland.

More than 6,700 Poles -- outnumbering any other nationality -- have been honoured as "Righteous Among the Nations" by Israel's Yad Vashem Institute, a title given to non-Jews who saved Jews during the Holocaust.

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